Accused of a kind of psychological vandalism, three members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot face up to seven years in prison after a protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. On Monday, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich all pleaded not guilty to charges of hooliganism stemming from the February protest.
Pussy Riot's song at the event described an institutionalized corruption in the Russian Orthodox Church, and savaged President Vladimir Putin. Lyrics included, "Virgin Mary, mother of god, drive Putin out.” A video of the event shows nothing expressly violent in their actions. Mostly, they just danced the can-can. Nothing they did damaged the facade of the cathedral. They didn't even play loud music; they mimed a concert and later dubbed in the music. The cathedral, completed in 2000 as a glitzy recreation of the pre-revolutionary cathedral razed by the Soviets, represents, to many, the increased influence of the church in the nation's political hierarchy. Patriarch Kirill I, head of the church, once described Putin as "a miracle from God."
Pussy Riot has previously been critical of Putin's links to the church and its influence on his political decisions. Their history of very public criticism could make the situation all the more difficult for the three imprisoned women, who claim not to have been involved in the February protest. Putin himself may have a direct impact in the course of the trial, according to the BBC News.
The contradictory Putin makes frequent pro-Democratic statements and gestures, including recent reforms to the political party system designed to promote openness. But his record is not so good; he did away with gubernatorial elections in 2004, and has held power as President or Prime Minister since 1999. The 2011 Democracy Index by the Economist called his decision to run for office again a sign Russia was slipping into "authoritarian" government.
The three women, two of them mothers, stand trial behind bulletproof glass, and have been in prison since March. Yet some Russians believe their punishment is apt, according to the BBC News piece, which features interviews with Orthodox church members who call for them to stay behind bars. Within the church itself, the complaints make the women seem like violent butchers, and dismisses their criticisms of the government and its links to religion as "blasphemy." “We are under attack by persecutors,” Kirill told a crowd of 40,000 in April. “The danger is in the very fact that blasphemy, derision of the sacred is put forth as a lawful expression of human freedom which must be protected in a modern society.”
The international community has come out in support of the three. Amnesty International (link is to Amnesty's petition) said in a statement, "The three women deny any involvement in the protest, although even if they took part, the severity of the response of the Russian authorities would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful - if, to many, offensive - expression of their political beliefs."
The music scene has also rallied around the band members, and artists such as Sting and the Red Hot Chili Peppers criticized the Putin government at concerts, through social media and with letter-writing campaigns. From the Twitter page of Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand: Any world leader who claims to be a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon ... then attempts to imprison contemporary musicians who express their political views, is the worst kind of hypocrite: a dangerous one.
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