Pussy Riot Found Guilty: Huge Blow to Freedom of Expression

08/18/2012

Pussy Riot’s February 21st protest against Vladmir Putin will cost them two years of their life. Yesterday, the Russian feminist punk rock group were found guilty of hooliganism for their anti-Kremlin protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral. The three band members are behind bars, but their symbolic actions are freely stirring quite the debate.

On February 21st, Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samucevich, each members of Pussy Riot rushed into the priest only section of Christ the Savior Cathedral wearing masks over their heads. Reaching the altar, they cued their song “Holy Shit,” a condemnation of the Russian Orthodox church’s close ties to Putin. The song contains lyrics like “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin…chase Putin out!” The women performed only one minute of their song before being arrested.

Pussy Riot were protesting the church’s support of Vladmir Putin, who recently was elected to a third term as Prime Minister. Putin, who is no stranger to criticism, was scrutinized for his sexist campaign called the “model army” which platformed around the many beautiful women of Russia who were willing to strip  to ensure his success. According the Guardian UK, Pussy Riot’s “punk rock prayer” was intended to protest ”against the decision of the leader of the Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, to openly support Putin in the lead-up to presidential elections in March,” though the Chaplin denied such support, two weeks before Pussy Riot’s performance he called Putin “a miracle of God.”

In 1987, Mathias Rust was also convicted of “hooliganism” for his symbolic landing near Moscow’s Red Square. Rust claimed that his landing was intended to symbolize “the  ’imaginary bridge’ to the East” and hoped that his flight would “reduce tension and suspicion between the two Cold War sides.“ As reported by Slate Magazine ”hooligan” is defined:

Russia’s criminal code explains hooliganism in article 213, where it’s defined as “The flagrant violation of public order expressed by a clear disrespect for society.” There are two different categories: hooliganism committed with a weapon, and hooliganism committed for reasons of politics, ideology, racism, nationalism, religious hatred, or enmity with respect to any social group.

Many celebrities including Sting, Madonna and Paul McCartney have publicly supported Pussy Riot. After the verdict was announced yesterday, protestors took to the streets wearing dresses and masks over their face like the outfits the three women wore on February 21st. According to the American Free Press, a poll of Moscow Echo radio station showed that 77 percent of listeners considered it “impossible to agree with the verdict.”

The public outcry in support of Pussy Riot may have saved the three women from a longer sentence, but Russia certainly didn’t spare them by charging them as hooligans which demands a punishment of jail.

At this point the ruling has been decided, but I felt it was important to share their story so that their message and ultimate sentence isn’t forgotten in vain. I am  no expert on the legal issues in Russia, nor of the history of the Cold War. While writing this piece, a good friend of mine, an immigrant from Latvia called me. I told him  I was reporting about the recent verdict to which he replied “Oh, Russia.” Today, is a sad day for Russia and for human free speech activists.