Members of Pussy Riot Joining All-Star Lineup at Amnesty Concert on Feb. 5th

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1528556_10151855501576363_2133184317_n-1By Ann Burroughs, Amnesty International USA Board Chair

I just heard some great news, and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m so excited to announce that on Feb. 5th, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alekhina will participate in Amnesty International’s landmark Bringing Human Rights Home Concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

I know the ability of music to move mountains. During my time as an activist in apartheid South Africa, singing together helped unite us in the streets, and helped demonstrate our power. Cries of “Amandla!” echoed through the townships and cities alike, and I knew I needed to join in. At the same time, protest songs rang across the world with powerful messages that amplified the voices of the anti-apartheid movement.

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One Year Later, Raising Our Voices for Pussy Riot

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Amnesty campaigner Jasmine Heiss

On the evening of February 20, 2013 I stood with a small, but colorful group of activists outside the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington, DC. Thousands of miles away in remote regions of the Russian Federation it was already February 21st and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria “Masha” Alyokhina were hours from waking to serve another day of their two-year sentences.

But the 21st was not simply another day – it was the one-year anniversary of Nadya and Masha’s performance with feminist punk group Pussy Riot in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

One Year Before Olympics in Sochi, Russia Continues its “Assault on Freedom”

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Putin in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin tours Olympic venues in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2013. SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images

With only a year left before the start of the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia has little time to reverse its increasing crackdown on freedom of expression.

In the last fifteen months, there has been a continuing assault on basic rights, including increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, a rise in forced evictions, human rights violations during security operations in the North Caucasus and the passage of several bills which negatively impact NGOs within Russia.

While hosting the Olympics is an incredible honor and an opportunity for the world to come together peacefully in the mutual enjoyment of universal sport, it’s also the perfect opportunity for the Russian government to do some serious soul-searching and correct its human rights record.
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Russian Court Decides to Not Release Pussy Riot’s Alyokhina

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members of pussy riot

A file picture taken on July 20, 2012 shows members of the all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), sitting behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages)

Nearly a year after punk rock protest group Pussy Riot’s performance at Christ the Savior Cathedral, a Russian prison court has ruled not to release jailed Pussy Riot member. The punk rocker’s attorneys had petitioned the Russian court to defer her sentence until her young son turned fourteen as she is a single parent.

Unfortunately, Maria will spend the remainder of her two year sentence far away from her five year old.

The ruling is yet another example of injustice compounded in the Pussy Riot case. From the initial unjustified arrests, to the questionable trial, to an outrageous verdict, each step in the case has been an affront to human rights and freedom of expression.

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10 Absurd and Unjust Arrests of 2012

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Check out our list of 10 absurd arrests and sentences of the year. You might be surprised to learn what can get you thrown in jail in a few places around the world, and how harsh the sentences are once you’re there.

belarus teddy bears fly over minsk

Bears being dropped. Photo via Studio Total

1. Posting photos of teddy bears.

Anton Suryapin of Belarus spent more than a month in detention after posting photos of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane. The bears were part of a stunt by a Swedish advertising company calling for freedom of expression in Belarus. Anton is charged of “organizing illegal migration” simply because he was the first upload photos of the teddy bears, and still faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.

2. Tweeting.

After allegedly “publicly insulting the King” on Twitter, a Bahraini man had his six-month prison sentence upheld on appeal, while three others are serving four-month prison sentences. Article 214 of Bahrain’s penal code makes it a crime to offend the King.

3. Opposing the death penalty.

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Get On the Map!

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Pussy Riot mapSting, Roger Waters and a growing number of artists and activists are joining Amnesty International activists like you who are raising their voices to help free Pussy Riot.

All over the world, freedom-loving people are deeply troubled that Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are still in prison.  A Russian appeals court failed to overturn their sentence in October despite a global outcry calling for their acquittal.

Russian Constitution Day

Amnesty International activists projected Pussy Riot images onto the Russian Embassy on Russian Constitution Day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t like the song they performed. And, on top of that, despite the fact that last week was Russian Constitution Day—a constitution that guarantees the right to free expression, mind you, officials are shutting down free speech all across Russia – and getting away with it.

Pussy Riot’s case connects the worlds of music and human rights.  When you add yourself to the Free Pussy Riot Map – Amnesty International’s newest human rights project for solidarity, you help deepen that connection.

When asked how he felt about Pussy Riot’s case, Sting had this to say: “Dissent is a legitimate and essential right in any democracy and modern politicians must accept this fact with tolerance.”

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A Heartfelt Thanks

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As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we wanted to pause and give thanks to our members and supporters for helping to make freedom and justice possible for countless people this past year. Here are some highlights of the successes and progress you helped to make possible.

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede of Cameroon

Release of prisoners of conscience

Facing calls from around the world, governments released numerous prisoners of conscience in 2012. From a young activist in Azerbaijan who protested the government, to a student in Cameroon who was imprisoned on charges of “homosexuality” to an Egyptian blogger who criticized the army’s abuse of peaceful protest, the power of your voices helped open prison doors for individuals at risk around the world.

A visit from a human rights hero

On her first visit to the U.S. in more than 20 years, Burmese democracy leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Amnesty Ambassador of Conscience Daw Aung San Suu Kyi joined Amnesty International USA to inspire the next generation of human rights activists in a town hall meeting with young people at Washington, D.C’s Newseum. We were both grateful and humbled by her presence.

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Last-Minute Halloween Costume Idea: Don a Balaclava for Pussy Riot

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Dress up for Pussy Riot this HalloweenStill looking for a Halloween costume? Why not don a balaclava for Pussy Riot and stand up for human rights!

Three members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot were arrested in February for performing a protest song at a Cathedral in Moscow. Russian prosecutors charged the three members with “hooliganism” and a court eventually handed two of them jail sentences. While we were thrilled to hear that the third detained member was conditionally released, one simple truth remains – none of these women should have been arrested in the first place. Demand that Russia release Pussy Riot now!

The women of Pussy Riot wear balaclava masks not only to protect their identities, but also to let the world know that anyone can fight for the right to free expression. This Halloween you can stand united with thousands of activists all over the country and wear a balaclava in support of Pussy Riot. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Balaclavas in Action

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We got word yesterday that authorities will rule on Pussy Riot’s appeal on October 10. In the meantime balaclava-clad Amnesty activists have made their rounds across New York City during the UN General Assembly protesting the unjust 2 year prison sentence for three women of Pussy Riot.  And around the world thousands more joined in to make a very public statement that the world is watching.

Check out these inspiring images of balaclavas-in-action and join the movement by continuing to take action until each and every Pussy Riot member has been set free.

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.

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