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Inside Pussy Riot trial: Bombs, dogs and dresses (OP-ED)

Published time: August 03, 2012 12:26
Edited time: August 03, 2012 16:26
RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

A bomb threat, a witness that went missing twice and a courtroom behaving more like a Marrakech bazaar, with the judge snapping, defense attorneys yelling and dogs barking: Just a few highlights in the dramatic ongoing trial of Pussy Riot.

Then there were the seemingly never-ending recess periods, which I spent in line on the stairs of Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court.

The session starts, and the defense immediately moves to recuse the judge – the fifth such attempt in four days. Some in the audience giggle, but Judge Syrova isn’t having any of that. “I ask for silence in court!” she snaps, and court bailiffs make it clear she’s not joking.

Syrova retires to deliberate the motion – some wonder with whom, considering she’s the judge under fire – and the audience files out of the 40-seat courtroom and into the street.

When I get back inside the building and prepare to pass through the metal detector, the court bailiff turns me around. “Everyone, get out,” he says. “There’s a bomb threat.”

The crowd, now reinforced by everyone else who was in the courthouse, giddily exits into the street. The defense uses this as PR moment – reporters approach, and there are some friendly dalliances between the journalists and Pussy Riot supporters.

After a canine police unit clears the building, everyone files back inside.

It’s almost an hour before the defendants are brought into the courtroom. “Did they evacuate you while we were being bombed?” asks one journalist, clearly meaning the bomb threat, but using the first word she thought of.

“What?!” The girls look confused as they pass by. The journalists repeat the question in unison, each in their own words, and one of the girls seems to say “no.”

Now back in the courtroom, Judge Sytova refuses the motion to recuse herself.

The defense raises another objection. Defense lawyer Violetta Volkova complains of being allergic to the security dog present in the courtroom for the last few days. Volkova asks that the dog be removed. Her motion is supported by another member of the defense team, Nikolay Polozov: “Yes, Your Honor, that dog also almost ate the prosecutor!”

Those in the room almost laugh – the dog did indeed growl at the prosecutor moments before Judge Syrova entered the courtroom. The dog is removed.

‘Especially offensive’ dresses and dancing

The defense has called big names on their witness list, including opposition superstar Aleksey Navalny and prominent Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya. But the judge rules they are not to be called on today, to the disappointment of the journalists and Pussy Riot supporters.

Ulitskaya prepared a speech on several pages, which she wanted to read in court. “But I saved the best one for the verdict!” she shares with an Ekho Moskvy Radio journalist. “I'll show them!”

The first witness of the day is a woman from another church where Pussy Riot’s members staged a similar performance. She says she was offended by the dancing, especially the outfits, of the group. Can she with certainty say that the defendants were the same people who staged the performance at her church? No. What was the most offending part about their stunt? Their masks, says the woman. And their dress, and their dancing, she adds after a pause.

During the woman’s testimony, Maria Alyokhina, outfitted in a smart dress, is sitting with her feet up against the glass wall of the aquarium-like defendants’ booth. Her mother, sitting two rows away from me, catches Maria’s eye and pats her thigh. Maria raises her eyebrows. Her mother repeats the gesture. Maria lowers her feet, and crosses her legs.

The next witness for prosecution is called, but seems to have gone AWOL.

Next is the testimony of Stanislav Samutsevich, the father of one of the defendants. A man in his seventies, he seems to be extremely uncomfortable. After he says that his written statement was made under duress and should be disregarded, the Judge reads that statement out loud.

We hear that Ekaterina Samutsevich was a bright scholar who went to a prestigious university, graduated with honors and went on to work for a company making radio equipment for the Russian Navy. Then she met Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and did a u-turn, according to her father.

He considers their family to be Orthodox Christians and says his daughter is baptized, and that Pussy Riot's antics in Christ the Savior Cathedral are being blown out of proportion, he says before leaving the witness stand.

The next witness for the prosecution is called, one who was missing at previous hearings. The prosecutor goes to fetch her after a prolonged pause. Turns out, the witness is missing again.

Judge Sytova refuses to hear witnesses for the defense. The next two hours are spent with the judge reading the court documents aloud.

Maia Alyokhina files a complaint, supported by Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich. They say the judge isn't reading the documents in their entirety, and they believe at least 100 pages have been added to the files. They demand a re-reading of the documents. Judge Sytova ignores the motion.

The girls seem to have lost their bravado. They stop winking and exchanging glances with the audience. The defense continues to interrupt the judge. The prosecution, strangely enough, keeps quiet. Judge Sytova continues to drone on with the document titles. There are eight folders, some 2,000 pages in total.

I leave the building. The evicted dog is having a grand time playing outside on the lawn by the courthouse.

­Irina Galushko for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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