Bitter Blow to Free Speech in Russia: Pussy Riot Convicted

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members of pussy riot convicted

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (C) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (R), were given 2 year sentences for a performance. (Photo AFP/Getty)

A Russian court’s decision today to sentence members of the punk rock protest band Pussy Riot to 2 years imprisonment in a penal colony is a bitter blow for freedom of expression in Russia – and it sends a dangerous message throughout the world (take action here).

Three members of the all-female group were outrageously charged with “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred” after they gave a politically charged and impromptu performance – a peaceful performance – poking fun at President Putin at a cathedral in February.

Say what you will about Pussy Riot: this may not be your kind of music. Some people find their shows offensive.

But it doesn’t change the facts: freedom of speech is a human right, and it’s vital to a free and just society.

Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom.

Maria Alekhina

These young women will be jailed for 2 years starting from the beginning of their detention in March 2012 and kept from their families, including small children, all because of a peaceful protest song that lasted less than a minute.

Maria Alekhina (Masha), Ekaterina Samutsevich (Katia) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadia) are prisoners of conscience – imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs –and should be released immediately.

In the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Russia, the arrest and trial of these women is an attempt by the Russian authorities not only to silence their voices but also to give a clear warning to any others who would dare to criticize the government.

But we won’t be silenced!

Thanks to more than one hundred thousand of you who joined us in speaking out, this international support has done something very important – it shined a bright light on a real injustice, it helped Masha, Katia and Nadia in very difficult times, and it demonstrated to Russian authorities that the world is watching. When Amnesty International sat down with the officials of the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, it was clear they were feeling the pressure.

It has also galvanized Russians who have never before been politically active.  This quote from Maria Sereda, a colleague of mine on the ground in Moscow, called this the most broad and heated civic discussion Russia has seen in the past 10-15 years:

“This case really made my country think and talk about  religion and state, freedom of  expression, tolerance, law  enforcement system, right to fair trial. And what’s especially important, for the first time in many years people in Russia  could actually see what global solidarity is about… The whole world was supporting our girls and everybody could see it.”

A 2-year sentence is unacceptable – and we will keep fighting until Pussy Riot is free.

Masha, Katia and Nadia might be imprisoned for now, but their courage and their spirit remain undaunted.  In Masha’s own words:

“Because all you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country.”

Let’s make sure they keep hearing us. Send your message to Russian authorities now and tell them to Free Pussy Riot!

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47 thoughts on “Bitter Blow to Free Speech in Russia: Pussy Riot Convicted

  1. No, this is the future if the people who rule us achieve the unchecked power they desire–not only in Russia but worldwide.

  2. The band is terrible. It really didn't seem like a protest. They don't seem to be getting jailed for what they said, but for how and where they did it. Granted, it's very important people have the right to say what they want, but they're are times and places to say these things, this did not seem like the right time and place. It's like protesting the severity of child molester punishment at an elementary school, you are just asking for trouble.

    It's funny, it really seems that people really do just agree with media. I'm sure if media made them (the band) out to be bad (without changing any facts of what happened) people would be saying they didn't get a severe enough punishment.

  3. Disorderly conduct and disruption of solemn religious service is NOT "Free Speech!"

    Are you even aware that other 'actions' and " performance art" of these women included public sex acts and that there was nudity involved in this disruptive and disturbing action?

    There is no free speech issue here at all, this is a case of trespass. And the sentence for disorderly conduct in the USA can be up to one year in prison.

    This was a hate crime, not "free speech"!

      • no, they deserve two years in prison – exactly what they got. A Singapore style caning would have been more appropriate, IMHO.

        • In what district do you serve? and why do you wish violence on those who have committed a non-violent act. I believe you need to seek help. Love is the only way.

            • I feel that the 'group's' action was in fact a back-handed, girlish, spoiled-brat type of violence (which does not surprise me); the response of Putin and his Archbishop mate—equally girlish and pretentious (now, that DOES surprise me). Sometimes, when a woman throws a drink on your favorite suit, the most painful response (to her) would be to smile and say, "women!". Let's not legitimize bullshit…two bullies came face-to-face on a playground, had their little slap fight, and now we are here grappling with the problem of choosing sides. It's beneath us. Get back in touch with me when a real issue comes up!

          • A person, equally psychotic and equally antisocial, shot up a movie theatre a couple of weeks ago… killed and injured a mass of people. Would you call that an exercise of freedom of speech? Or, maybe an exercise of freedom which he knew to be anything but "free"? One person's "non-violence…", "one person's propriety…". "Love is the only way? Wasn't that their first stop on the way to Siberia?

  4. Amnesty International should focus its energy and attention back to real free speech issues and serious civil rights issues, not these foolish children whose tantrum happened on property that it is illegal to trespass on and cause vulgar disturbance in.

  5. The state got it's poor widdle feewings hurt:(. So they get mad and shut up those nasty little girls so no one else can hear them. But, uh-oh, now we're all hearing it!

    You suck Putin! Come and get me!

  6. This is such bullshit, and what about all those speeches made in PUBLIC by religious against "satanist" music like punk rock or heavy metal?? I guess they also should be found guilty of hate and throw into prison.

    • only if they were trespassing and engaging in disorderly conduct, a Church is a private building that offers its space to the public, on its own terms

  7. They asked for it, and got it. You seriously undermine the credibility of your organization by misrepresenting the facts and downplaying the offensiveness and culpability of these girls….and I am no fan of religion or totalitarianism….but hooliganism sometimes IS hooliganism. Do the crime, do the time.

    • If Slayer played an "impromptu concert" on the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral wearing burlap sack masks and humping the floor, do you really think they wouldn't be charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and maybe even domestic terrorism? They shot a video….watch it before you condemn the courts for convicting them. And I actually LIKE Slayer….if these girls had built a set resembling a church that would be one thing….I have no beef with Madonna….maybe religious beliefs are foolish and churches take advantage of people….no argument here….but there are ways of doing things, and they crossed some serious lines.

  8. These girls are symbolic of a bigger issue of suppression in Russia. Pussy Riot girls are brave.

    • Elfinwild is right. This is symbolic of larger issues in Russia. Since Putin assumed office, Russian authorities have increasingly clamped down on freedom of expression, implementing laws that levy exorbitant fines on unsanctioned public meetings, crackdown on dissent and restrict the functioning of NGOs that provide vital public services.

  9. [Petr] Verzilov and #$%$ Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had met as students in the philosophy department of Moscow State University, and had been doing shocking performance art for years, first with a group called Voina, after which they founded #$%$ Riot. (One of their first performance pieces, for Voina, involved HAVING SEX, together with a large GROUP, in Moscow’s Biological Museum on the eve of Medvedev’s inauguration. Tolokonnikova was heavily pregnant at the time.)

  10. Everyone would be screaming anti-semitism and hate crime if these kids had disturbed a Synagogue in this childish and nasty manner.

  11. How can you say that these WOMEN (not girls) committed a hate crime when the church has been passively and aggressively hating women for centuries?

    • the shocked old church ladies (WOMEN) in the video don't look the least bit happy about the vulgar disturbance of their sacred space….

  12. Say what you will about Pussy Riot: this may not be your kind of music. Some people find their shows offensive.

    But it doesn’t change the facts: Since March, these young women have been in jail and kept from their families, including small children – all because of a peaceful protest song that lasted less than a minute. The verdict is outrageous and emblematic of larger issues with freedom in the country.

    Since Putin assumed office, Russian authorities have increasingly clamped down on freedom of expression, implementing laws that levy exorbitant fines on unsanctioned public meetings, crackdown on dissent and restrict the functioning of NGOs that provide vital public services. You can read more here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/russia-e

    • "peaceful protest" ? BS. the reality is : Disturbing the Peace, which is a crime here in the USA as well.

      • Also, trespass. Trespass is a crime. Can I come over uninvited and sit bare ass naked in your living room and make terrible music? Would you tolerate that? I do not think you would, _at all_……..how about if I masturbate? Which on other occasions these females have done in public spaces, this is on record.

    • Find a better "poster child" then these hooligans — if you want to maintain any credibility, build support and make any progress against the "Russian authorities" clamp down on "freedom of expression". These "Ladies" got what they deserved.

  13. Michelle Ringuette, My question to you is DON'T YOU HAVE ANY BETTER CAUSES TO SUPPORT?

    There is enough injustice in the world to go around, I'd say, including thousands of people who are in trouble and being victimized/oppressed who NEVER ASKED FOR IT!

    And I say again, you undermine your credibility and that of Amnesty International by lying about the facts. Why not post a link to the video so people can see what these "poor young girls" were up to?

    Ask me for a donation or to sign a petition in a couple of years when you finish fighting for these idiots. if their so-called "courage" and "spirit" had been channeled creatively they might not be in the stripey hole. I love a good provocateur….but Pussy Riot doesn't qualify.

    • Well Said, Friend! Amnesty used to be better than this. I will not be donating this year, due to this wildly innapropriate stance. This drags Amnesty down to the level of PETA.

  14. So what happened to my freedom of speech? 3 bitches speak out against the government which where i come from is treason and just because I happen to support their government rather than these hippie freaks and I post my feelings my post gets deleted. What the hell? Fuck you and may those guilty rot in hell. Thank you.

    • I diagree with your stance, but I apologize for the heavy-handed way that some of our people choose to disagree with you (to DELETE the person's opinion—really?)…this point-of-view seems to be a recurrent theme here. Freefom of speech? As a Black American male, I ned to ask, does anybody actually believe in such a thing?

      • I have become accustomed to a world where we boldly state who we are/where we stand, fully knowing that we will be strangled with consequence (physical/political/economic). Say who you are, and accept the consequences of the world's imbalance. (I also apologize for my poor keyboard skills/fat fingers).

  15. Guess freedom of speech doesn't cover me huh. 3rd post I've left and I still don't agree with that band if that's what you want to call it. You can delete this too cause I can see that freedom of speech is hypocrisy and while I don't agree with what they said and I think they should be locked up they have a right to their voice as long it's not treasonous which it is so scratch what I said. As for the yahoo who keeps deleting my posts you can bite it!

    • Again, I diagree with your stance, but I apologize to you for the heavy-handed way that some of our people choose to disagree with you (to DELETE the person's opinion—really?)…this point-of-view—the tow-faced nature of equality— seems to be a recurrent theme here. Freedom of speech? As a Black American male, I need to ask, does anybody actually believe in such a thing?

  16. А если появится серийный маньяк-убийца, который на теле каждой своей жертвы будет писать кровью "Россия без Путина", или "Путина на нары", а потом этого маньяка судить, то Вы тоже будете говорить о том, что Путин преследует оппозицию??

  17. that is totally innapropriate, you should have your IP handed over to law enforcement for making such idiotic and vile threats.

  18. And if you will be a serial maniac, which the body of the victim will each write with blood "Russia without Putin" and "Putin on the bench," and then judge this maniac, you too will say that Putin seeks opposition?

  19. I love Pussy Riot. These women are brave. You don't understand the art. Just like some people can't understand Picasso. They knew the risks. They did it anyway. Bravo.

  20. You are justifiably pissed off and indignant, but put your shirt on…you're scaring the kids!

    I diagree with your stance, but I apologize for the heavy-handed way that some of our people choose to disagree with you (to DELETE the person's opinion—really?)…this point-of-view seems to be a recurrent theme here. Freefom of speech? As a Black American male, I need to ask, does anybody actually believe in such a thing? Are you able to tell from your experiences in this discussion. A thimble full of power will make a person act like these people, IMAGINE real power in the hands of Putin, the Archbishop, or the pair in unison. Oh yeah, I guess we don't need to "imagine".

  21. Pussy Riot are unwitting stooges for western neo-liberal interests. They are little more than Bleeding hearts paving the way for NATO boots. Amnesty International would do well to investigate actual offenses of human rights, instead of exhibiting this false outrage at the idea that these anarcho-feminist punk rockers have been legitimately imprisoned. They were not imprisoned because of the content of their song, but rather because they trespassed on private property and incited an act of hatred against the Russian Orthodox Church.

    I have nothing against the band personally, but they brought this on themselves. Every country has laws against indecent behavior in public and tresspassing. Many nations have laws against hate speech. How can AI claim the moral ground when there are many people in jail because they offended the sensitivities of certain "minorities" in the West?

    Would AI equally defend an all-male, right-leaning musical group who entered a synagogue and denounced Barack Obama?

    In the end, if they are unable to denounce the latter, this subjective idealism is being used to further the interest of the objective enemy of all humanity. People who apply the law unequally are pawns in a much greater game than just playing pranks in a church.

    This is the shape of imperialism in the 21st Century, using liberal cause celebre to stir and instigate revolts to their advantage and gain. "Human rights" and "free speech" were the west's big issues during the cold war years, now they return to the model and add gay rights, womens rights.

    Imperialism is wagging the liberal dog. The liberals provide the bark, the imperialists the teeth. And it is the rest of the world that gets shat on from a great height. Time to put this sick old dog to sleep for good.
    http://www.ridingthetiger.org/2012/08/20/pussy-ri

  22. to whom it may concern,
    I as well as many others have no intention to concern ourselves with this silly act from a group of clowns ( pussy riot) that did that move solely for a publicity stunt!It is so sad that you groupies are willing to waste our time and money to focus on this twisted garbage!
    They intentionally got themselves in this mess, let them and their management get them out!
    I like many others are now done supporting Amnesty International, you need to get your focus back on greater issues…. not stunts gone awry

  23. I am in love with Pussy Riot. My girlfriend wears a balaclave when we have sex…and yes, we have done it in church!