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Russian punk band's plight galvanizes artists, rights groups, leaders

August 17, 2012 | 12:36 pm

German politicians protest Pussy Riot sentences
The prison sentencing Friday of members of the band Pussy Riot by a Russian court has united a diverse list of pop stars, human rights advocates and political leaders from around the world who view the imprisonment of the band as a shocking example of Kremlin repression.

Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting, Bjork and up-and-coming punksters were joined by the U.S. government, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and a civil society foundation headed by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov in expressing concern for the fate of freedom of speech in Russia.

The two-year prison sentences handed down by a Russian court after a widely denounced trial galvanized the disparate voices and appeals for clemency for the band members, whose February "punk prayer" for Russian leader Vladimir Putin's downfall was met with what is viewed as a concerted effort to stifle dissent in post-Soviet Russia.

Photos: Russian punk band members sentenced to 2 years in prison

Commentaries posted to media websites in the United States and Europe condemned the Russian leadership for punishing the trio for staging a political protest stunt at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, which prosecutors branded "premeditated hooliganism" and charged the women with a hate crime.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich stood in handcuffs in a glassed-in dock of the Moscow courtroom as the verdict was read and witnesses were cited accusing them of sacrilege and Satanic gestures in the hallowed temple of the Russian Orthodox Church. The judge's reading was interrupted by a blast of punk rock music from an apartment across the street from the courtroom, The Times' Sergei Loiko reported from the scene. At least 60 supporters protesting outside the courthouse, including Kasparov, were arrested and taken away by police.

While Pussy Riot was little known outside Moscow alternative music circles until the cathedral protest six months ago -- despite provocative stunts including nudity and public orgies -- it has soared to international attention since then as a symbol of reinvigorated Kremlin repression of dissent and artistic expression.

"The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia," the U.S. State Department said in a statement read by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld."

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, warned Moscow that by punishing the women it was violating commitments to respect individual rights and freedoms.

"This sentence is disproportionate. Together with the reports of the band members' mistreatment during their pre-trial detention and the reported irregularities of the trial, it puts a serious question mark over Russia's respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process," Ashton said in a statement.

A flood of comments and criticism via Twitter drew in activists of all ilks, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, which retweeted a comment that the trio being accused of undermining the social order in Russia was "possibly the proudest charge one could have."

Some commentaries, like an unsigned posting on the Russia Today news site, described the Pussy Riot case as a lightning rod for the clash of traditional concepts of morality and the hedonistic excesses of alternative art.

"It seems that the Russian girls, whatever we think about this sort of ‘art,’ accidentally put their finger on one the most sensitive issues not only for Russia, but for many people worldwide," the article observed. "What are the moral limitations of the global community, where habitual views, norms and rules are eroding?"

Other tweets likened the Russian government's intervention on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church to the attempts of conservative U.S. politicians, like failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, to enshrine fundamentalist Christian beliefs in social policies on contraception and extramarital sex.

ALSO:

Putin's opponents feel the heat in Russia

Two years in prison for anti-Putin Russian punk band provocateurs

Free-speech advocates worldwide protest Russian punk band's sentence

--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles 

Photo: German parliamentarian Renate Kuenast and Federal Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loening join supporters of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot outside the Russian embassy in Berlin on Friday. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

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