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Pussy Riot detention drawn out 6-months, public outraged

Published time: July 21, 2012 00:10
Edited time: July 25, 2012 20:08
(RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)

(RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)

A Moscow court’s decision to detain the members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot for another 6 months has sparked a new wave of public outrage. The girls' lawyers are now seeking President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill as witnesses in the case.

­The Moscow City Court has ruled that Pussy Riot's members, who have already spent nearly five months in pre-trial detention, will remain in custody until January 2013. The girls’ lawyers called the case a theater of the absurd, and a show trial dictated by officials who want to see the girls serve serious jail time.

The lawyers said that it was a “hell” inside the courtroom, and that the prosecutors could not keep their arguments straight. Defense lawyer Violetta Volkova said that the prosecutors “believe that the recent murder of the Mufti was provoked by the actions of the defendants, which is why they must remain in custody.”

“Today's decision only proves again that our role as defendants here is a pure formality,” said another lawyer, Mark Feigin. “It is not a process but a judicial reprisal.”

The defense said it had filed several motions to bring “experts” – including President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill – to testify before the court, but the motions were rejected.

"The patriarch has repeatedly spoken out about events in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In addition to that, he was rector of the church and believers need to hear his opinion," Feigin said. And Putin, Feigin claims, has a “decisive influence” on the court, which makes him a material witness to the case.

Both Church officials and the executive branch earlier denied having any hand in the trial, saying the court is acting independently in regards to the case. Pussy Riot supporters, however, maintain that the girls are being targeted specifically for their anti-clerical and anti-government stance.

A participant in an action held in support of the Pussy Riot punk band (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Filippov)
A participant in an action held in support of the Pussy Riot punk band (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Filippov)

­The court building was cordoned off by police beginning early Friday morning. Journalists and groups of Pussy Riot's supporters and opponents gathered outside.

In spite of having very lively debates on the issue, the opposing groups did not cause any trouble. However, four supporters of the band were detained for shouting slogans. They were escorted into one of many police vans parked nearby.

The three members of Pussy Riot – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich – each face up to seven years in prison on extremist hooliganism charges following a masked guerrilla performance on the altar of Russia’s main cathedral. The song criticized Putin and alleged corruption within the Russian Orthodox Church.

Many Orthodox believers took offense at the performance. The girls act took place in a sacred location of the cathedral normally reserved for ordained priests only. The song itself was styled to sound like an orthodox prayer to Virgin Mary, but extensively used profane language.

Moods swing in favor of punks

­The continued detention of the girls and the severity of their possible punishment are a matter of great controversy in Russia. Many people call it disproportionate to their wrongdoing and say the Russian Orthodox Church has a hand in how the case is being prosecuted.

Dozens of leading artists and intellectuals signed a petition last month calling for Pussy Riot’s release on bail and a substitution of criminal charges with administrative ones.

“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.

Many human rights activists see Pussy Riot’s position as unnecessarily harsh.

"There's one problem that must be solved as soon as possible – it should preferably have been solved yesterday: why on earth are they still behind bars?" Vladimir Lukin, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner said, commenting  on the girl’s months-long detention. "Why are they behind bars without a prompt trial?"

Critics of the punk band say the girls deserve a harsh punishment for their performance because it was a deliberate and calculated attack on the religious feelings of Christian believers. The girls earlier took part in other highly controversial and morally-dubious actions, including a politically-loaded group sex photo session in 2008.

Still even among the critics voices are rising against keeping the girls in custody until their trial. Andrey Kuraev, who is an orthodox priest and professor at the Moscow Spiritual Academy as well as a popular blogger, says keeping Pussy Riot behind bars “only boosts the number of those sympathizing with them and gives weight to the critics of the Church, who point to it as one of the drivers of the prosecution.”

The majority of Muscovites seems to sympathize with the band already. According to a poll conducted by the independent Levada Center released on Friday, over 50 per cent of respondents said they were against a criminal trial for Pussy Riot, with only 36 per cent supporting the trial.

(RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
(RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)

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