Pussy Riot | Photo by Igor Mukhin
Pussy Riot | Photo by Igor Mukhin

 

UPDATE, Aug. 17, 2012 |  The verdict was two years in prison camp for the members of the Pussy Riot.

Masha Lipman of The New Yorker writes:  “The trial of Pussy Riot ended as it began: as an egregious expression of contempt for law, justice, and common sense. The verdict—two years in prison camp for each of the three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, members of the punk band Pussy Riot, which had staged a brief anti-Putin performance in a cathedral, was a triumph of anti-modern obscurantism over young Russian modernity, the crushing power of the state over the individual, servility over independence. In trials, like that of Pussy Riot, that are guided by powerful political interests, convictions are preordained, and the verdicts are generally identical to the initial indictment.”

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/08/the-pussy-riot-verdict.html#ixzz240n6uV51

 

 

WORLDWIDE |   Common wisdom says that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion.  The three members of the female punk group Pussy Riot certainly expect it.  In a courtroom diary of the Russian trials, the husband of one of the detained women, Pyotr Verzilov, writes, “It’s 100% sure the girls will be convicted. The question is only: how long will they get?”

Apparently, statistics back up their conviction.  John Lough, an associate fellow of the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, states that “acquittals by Russian courts are virtually unheard of,” adding:

In 92 per cent of the 178 cases overseen by Judge [Marina] Syrova, the defendants have been found guilty.  The question, therefore, is whether the women will receive a suspended sentence or a jail term.  The prosecutor is calling for them to be jailed for three years. However, what is more interesting than the outcome is how the Russian system set out to punish three young punk anarchists, and ended up playing into their hands by making their case a Dreyfus affair at home and a cause célèbre abroad.

On Friday August 17 (3 p.m. Moscow time), Judge Marina Syrova will hand out a verdict.  That date is also “Free Pussy Riot Global Day.”  Although the mainstream U.S. media has not given this upcoming verdict much play (TV news anchors are probably reluctant to utter the vulgar form of “vagina” ), human-rights activists everywhere have successfully and massively alerted the rest of the world to their dire plight.

Activists in more than 40 cities around the world (Dublin, Odessa, Melbourne, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Vienna, London, Paris, Moscow and so forth) have joined forces on this very same day to organize political and performance actions that demand the freedom of Pussy Riot.  A complete list of events around the world during “Free Pussy Riot Global Day” appears here.

In New York, for example, on the eve of the trial’s verdict, Pussy Riot’s eloquent court room testimonies were read by Chloe Sevigny, Eileen Myles, Karen Finley and Justin Vivian Bond at the appropriately named Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel.  Today (Friday), a demonstration will be held at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (9 – 10 am, at 15 E 97th St) and in front of the Russian Consulate (10am – 12pm, at 9 East 91st Street).  These protest actions will take the form of a “musical masquerade protest party” that will culminate in a Times Square mid-day rally.

PLEASE: Bring signs, wear bright colors (see Pussy Riot for inspiration) and bring a noisemaker and/or stringed instrument. Don’t forget to bring your balaclava masque. (IMPORTANT NOTE: although wearing mask in a masquerade party is legal, a permit is still required which we do not have. see full penal code below).

Pussy Riot March on Madison from 91st Consulate to 46nd / Broadway street rally
WHEN: 12pm -1pm marching!
PLEASE: Bring signs, wear bright colors (see Pussy Riot for inspiration) and bring a noisemaker and/or stringed instrument.

1pm — Arrive Times Square Rally:
WHERE: 46th Street and Broadway
WHEN: 1-2pm

Masquerade Law NEW YORK Penal Law 240.35 (4):  New York’s anti-mask law criminalizes the wearing of masks or disguises by three or more persons in a public place unless done in connection with a “masquerade party or like entertainment,” after obtaining a permit to wear masks from the police or other appropriate authorities. The courts have defined “like entertainment” as “social gatherings, dances, and performances that involve masks or costumes,” Under the current law, wearing a bandana tied around one’s face falls within the scope of the mask prohibition.

These actions have received institutional support from such human-rights groups as Amnesty International, Austrian Green PartyEuropean Women’s Lobby, Free Muse, Human Rights Watch, Index of Censorship, PEN International and Russia’s Human Rights Council.

The facts are, by now, familiar.  Arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” Pussy Riot members Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been in detention since March. The reason?  On February 21, 2012, they performed a “Punk Prayer” — their profanity-laced anthem “Mother of God, Cast Putin Out” — on the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It was a protest against the Russian Orthodox which openly endorsed Vladimir Putin as he campaigned for a presidential reelection (a third term).

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot sit in court | Photo by Reuters
Feminist punk group Pussy Riot sit in court | Photo by Reuters

The defendants were repeatedly denied bail. On July 20, 2012, a Moscow court ruled that the three women were to remain in jail without a trial for an additional six months.  After intense pressure from European politicians and foreign ambassadors (not to mention expressions of concern from the likes of Red Hot Chili Pepper and Sting, as well as a boycott by Finnish jazz musician Iiro Rantala ), a trial did begin on July 30.

As noted above, the prosecutor later called for Pussy Riot to be jailed for three years, even though the charge normally carries a seven-year sentence.  This is interesting in light of Putin’s remark, during the trials that he is aware of the danger of appearing intolerant. On Aug. 3, 2012, President Putin asked the court to show “leniency” for the three women. He told reporters that although the women did nothing good, they should not be judged too harshly.

Putin also insisted that it was for the court to decide the verdict. Few people in Russia buy that remark. Most analysts and think-tank experts believe that the ruling in any prominent political case in Russia is made outside of the court  — a decision that if true could bode badly for both Putin as well as for foreign investors who regard an independent judiciary and a predictable rule of law as vital to their monetary interests in Russia.

From a public-relations standpoint, the anti-Putin campaigns around the world are a nightmare.  It is as if the demonstrations that Putin faced during the run-up to his recent presidential elections exploded became a global protest. A liberal Russian magazine, the New Times, said the negative publicity for Putin had been worse than the war with Georgia in 2008 or the arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. The event has become such a cause célèbre that the pop superstar Madonna wore a ski-mask at a Moscow concert to show her support for Pussy Riot and stripped to her bra to show the band name scrawled across her back.

Members of Russian female punk group Pussy Riot who are still at large, wait before an interview with Reuters journalists in Moscow/ Picture taken August 13 | Photo by REUTERS/William Webster
Members of Russian female punk group Pussy Riot who are still at large, wait before an interview with Reuters journalists in Moscow/ Picture taken August 13 | Photo by REUTERS/William Webster

These global campaigns add fuel to the post-1989 conventional wisdom that free speech and democracy never actually took solid root in Russia. According to the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), the Constitution of the Russian Federation “provides for freedom of speech,” and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights — Russia being a signatory to both — “guarantee the right to freedom of expression.”  And yet if the Russian courts convict the Pussy Riot, this will be yet another evidence to a lingering post-Cold War perception that Russia’s autocratic regime ignores its own Constitution.

The following assessment by Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF, is typical of the rhetoric:

Putin’s request for leniency in this case was a transparent public relations move, and is by all means hypocritical. Given that Pussy Riot is a civil society group substantially and openly dedicated to criticizing Putin’s own government, a democratic move would have consisted of requesting that they be immediately acquitted given that they have violated no laws. In any case, we hope the court tomorrow will rule according to the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and set these women free.

A harsh sentence against the Pussy Riot members will serve to prove Halvorssen’s underlying point; far from being democratic, Putin’s government has been abusive and despotic.  A lenient sentence might serve to anger officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.  After all, it was Putin’s alliance with the church that partly made it possible for him to effectively extend his 12-year rule as president or prime minister for at least six more years.

Another reason for Putin’s reelection success is a dysfunctional culture of bureaucracy that is redolent of post-Soviet mindset. Given my own study and personal experiences about how post-Soviet officials generally behave when faced with a crisis, it is this patriarchal hard-line system itself that the Pussy Riot exposed to the world.

To glean how this operates, read this testimony from Michelle A. Ringuette, chief of campaigns and programs for of Amnesty International USA, about what happened to the two boxes of petitions in support of Pussy Riot which the group attempted to deliver on August 14 at Moscow’s Embassy in Washington, D.C.

We’re used to countries with shameful records on human rights not being thrilled to see us when we show up at their doors. But even though we had a scheduled meeting at the Russian embassy on Tuesday to discuss human rights in Russia, we received one of the most unfriendly welcomes we have ever seen!

Thanks to you, we were armed with more than 70,000 petitions calling for the immediate release of the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. But after our delegation raised Amnesty’s concerns about freedom of expression in Russia, one of the embassy officials abruptly ended the meeting and stormed off of the embassy grounds to dump your petitions on the sidewalk.

The Russian embassy denies this account, stating that the boxes did not remain on its grounds because Amnesty representatives refused to allow them to be screened. However, Ringuette said that the Russian official

stood up and very aggressively told us it was time for us to leave, [that] the meeting was over, that he would not accept our petitions, that we could not leave [the boxes] on the grounds. He tried to make us take them. He physically put [a box] in the arms of one of the members of my delegation and wrapped her arms around the box, which cut her finger. Then he took the boxes and stormed out of the room and stormed down the walkway of the embassy, down to the sidewalk, and dumped the boxes on the sidewalk.

In short, the embassy official lost control when confronted by an unexpected challenge.

Putin probably was not directly responsible for the detention of Pussy Riot, but because he fomented a repressive atmosphere, Putin has paid the price. He irreversibly lost the war. Whatever verdict the Russian court passes on Friday, blunt Kafkaesque overreaction to simple democratic actions lies at the systematic root of Putin’s Pussy problem —  a drama of dissent and intolerance in which every Russian bureaucrat and Kremlin official is unwittingly playing their assigned roles.

In the case of this trial, that dynamic is writ very large, because of the deep feminist resonance.  In a global arena, it’s Putin versus “the girls.”  A band of educated, middle-class women in ski masks, short skirts and bright tights, all in their 20s, have dealt his regime a devastating blow. How? The anarchy of their performance slapped down the swagger and brag of a Russian strongman whose trademark is to appear publicly with wild animals or engage in manly, bare-chested sports.  —  randy gener, in the theater of One World

Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" sit in the defendant's cell before a court hearing in Moscow
Members of the female punk band “Pussy Riot” sit in the defendant’s cell before a court hearing in Moscow
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