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Rock and the Russian Church: The Pussy Riot debate

Published time: July 30, 2012 04:01
Edited time: July 30, 2012 19:00
Members of the Pussy Riot punk band (from left in the background) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich during the hearings on the merits on their case in Moscow's Hamovniki Court. (RIA Novosti/Andrey Stenin)

Members of the Pussy Riot punk band (from left in the background) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich during the hearings on the merits on their case in Moscow's Hamovniki Court. (RIA Novosti/Andrey Stenin)

The hearings of the controversial case of punk band Pussy Riot have begun in a Moscow court. Their concert in Moscow’s main cathedral sparked international furor, with many calling it blasphemy, while supporters claim the trial is politically driven.

The three members of the feminist punk band – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich – were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.” All three pleaded not guilty before the court.

Commenting on her statement, Tolokonnikova emphasized that she had no reason to feel hatred towards the believers and the religion.

More on the court hearings here.

Amnesty International has called for the release of the Pussy Rioters, two of whom have young children, saying the charges are not a "justifiable response to the peaceful – if, to many, offensive – expression of their political beliefs."

Meanwhile, critics of the punk band say it was a deliberate attack on the religious sensibilities of Christian believers and call for harsh punishment.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the performance "blasphemous" and an “attack” on both the Church itself and on Russia’s (Christian) national identity.

Tens of thousands of the faithful gathered in front of the cathedral on April 22 to show their support.

At the same time, there are those who say a lesser sentence – or even no sentence – would be more appropriate.

Thus, the head of Russia’s oldest human rights group has called on the authorities to free the girls and compensate them for the six months they have spent in pre-trial custody.

In June, more than 100 mainstream Russian actors and cultural figures signed an open letter calling for their release.

“The girls didn’t murder anyone, didn’t rob or use violence, didn’t damage or steal anyone’s property. Russia is a secular state, and no anti-clerical action can be reason for a criminal prosecution, unless it violates the criminal code,” the letter insisted.

Orthodox believers gather for a call to prayer in support of the Church led by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 22, 2012 (Reuters / Denis Sinyakov)

Pussy Riot supporters have held numerous events in support of the girls in different cities across Russia and abroad.

In St. Petersburg, an artist has sewn his mouth shut and paraded through the city’s Kazansky Cathedral.

On July 20 the Moscow City Court rules that the group would remain in custody until January 2013.

The girls’ lawyers have called the case “a theater of the absurd” and “a show trial” dictated by officials who want to see the girls serve years in prison.

On the eve of the trial two members of Pussy Riot who also performed at the altar, but were not arrested, gave interviews to Western media.

"Putin is scared of us, can you imagine? Scared of girls," a 20-year old girl who calls herself Squirrel told the Guardian. “It was just a prayer. A very special prayer," added the other girl, 22-year- old Sparrow.

Putin himself once called the girls performance “disgusting”, but has refrained from commenting on the matter since.

Image from pussy-riot.livejournal.com
Image from pussy-riot.livejournal.com
Orthodox believers gather for a call to prayer in support of the Church led by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 22, 2012 (Reuters / Denis Sinyakov)
Orthodox believers gather for a call to prayer in support of the Church led by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 22, 2012 (Reuters / Denis Sinyakov)
Participants of the March of Millions protest rally before the procession held along Bolshaya Yakimanka Street to Bolotnaya Square (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)
Participants of the March of Millions protest rally before the procession held along Bolshaya Yakimanka Street to Bolotnaya Square (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin)

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