24 Dec 2013
Pussy Riot want acquittal from Vladimir Putin, not amnesty

Anna Nemtsova in Moscow and Shaun Walker
The Guardian
Monday 23 December 2013 13.53 EST

After nearly two years in prison for singing a song about Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral, the women of Pussy Riot are no less defiant. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have walked free from prison , and pledged to devote their energies to changing the political system in Russia and improving conditions inside its prisons.

Read Full Article Here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/23/freed-pussy-riot-amnesty-pr...

17 Aug 2013
One Year After Pussy Riot Verdict, Children Still Coming To Grips With Mothers' Jailing

By Claire Bigg
August 16, 2013

It's been a tough year for Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

The two women have been locked up in some of Russia's harshest jails since a court on August 17, 2012, handed them two-year sentences for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.

In addition to the daily privations of prison life, the members of the feminist punk collective have endured unrelenting prison reprimands, solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and quashed court appeals -- deepening international outrage over what many denounce as a grossly disproportionate response from the Kremlin.

The past year has been no less agonizing for the women's young children, Tolokonnikova's 5-year-old daughter Gera and Alyokhina's son Filipp, 6.

Relatives say Gera and Filipp sorely miss their mothers and are still coming to grips with the reality of their moms serving time in high-security prison camps.

Nikita Demidov, Filipp's father, told RFE/RL that he chose not to keep the truth from his son following Alyokhina's arrest in March 2012.

"I received a lot of different advice from relatives who are not used to speaking openly to children," he says. "But I told him that his mother was in prison because she went to Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang too loudly there and that some people were not happy about it."

02 Aug 2013
Jailed Pussy Riot Activist’s Defiant Speech at Parole Hearing

By Robert Mackey
August 1, 2013

As my colleague Melena Ryzik reported, the two members of the Russian activist collective Pussy Riot who remain imprisoned were both denied parole last week. At separate hearings, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were judged to be insufficiently repentant for the “punk prayer” they performed in a Moscow cathedral last year, calling on the Virgin Mary to “send Putin packing!”

The women, who were arrested together in March 2012 and sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism aimed at inciting religious hatred,” both denounced the Russian justice system during the parole hearings in Perm and Saransk.

On Thursday, the literary journal n+1 published an English translation of Ms. Tolokonnikova’s defiant statement, in which she said: “I know that in Russia under Putin I will never receive parole. But I came here, to this courtroom, in order to cast light once again on the absurdity of the justice of the oil-and-gas-resource kingdom, which condemns people to rot pointlessly in camps.”

02 Jul 2013
The Big Chill: Critics Say Kremlin Waging A War On Ideas

By Robert Coalson
July 1, 2013

It's not a great time to be a freethinker in Russia.

Offending somebody's religious sensibilities could get you prosecuted according to legislation signed this weekend by President Vladimir Putin. Criticizing the wrong person with a snarky comment on a social network could run afoul of a vaguely worded law criminalizing online defamation.

And lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists need to be mindful of a newly enacted federal law prohibiting "homosexual propaganda" as well as similar legislation enacted in many Russian regions.

And pretty soon, criticizing those who fought against Nazi Germany could be a crime punishable with stiff fines and jail terms.

The recent spate of legislation has fostered a big intellectual chill and created what the Council of Europe, in a recent report, called a "generalized climate of fear" across the country.

"Over the last year we have seen a broad-scale operation that includes a whole package of so-called laws from the Duma under which anyone can be arrested," Viktor Krasin, a Soviet-era dissident who is now a human rights activist, says.

"They have done a remarkable thing -- now you can be accused of slandering the authorities, of inciting enmity. This is just the same as the Stalin- and Khrushchev-era [anti-Soviet] laws but with just different formulations."

23 Jun 2013
Pussy Riot: 'We're not frightened - and we're not just stupid girls'

By Harriet Alexander

June 22, 2013

They are an internationally-known group of activists – and yet no one knows their names. They seek publicity for their "punk protests" – and yet their voices and faces are disguised. They are underground, out of the mainstream – and yet beloved by Madonna.

Pussy Riot are nothing if not contradictory.

"First and foremost we are artists," said 'Schumacher' – one of two members of the "feminist punk protest collective" that travelled to London as part of a tour promoting their cause. The women are not wearing their trademark balaclavas, yet do not wish to be identified in any way, meeting in secret at a cloak-and-dagger gathering in the capital.

"Some of us might be more focused on legal issues at the moment, and others on music," she said. "But we are a strong union. The perception of us might have changed, but we are still artists."

To say that the perception of them has changed is something of an understatement.

23 Jun 2013
Pussy Riot: "People fear us because we're feminists"

By Laurie Penny
June 22, 2013

Pussy Riot aren't just on tour. They're on the run. 

When we meet in a secret location in central London, they make it clear that this interview is on condition of anonymity. The Russian punk-feminist protest group, two of whose members are currently travelling the world, talking to activists and journalists and raising support for their band-mates in prison, are wanted by their government, who have branded them extremists for their stand against religious patriarchy and the Putin regime. It will be illegal to read or share this article in Russia.  

“There’s a media war in our country,” says the one who, today, is calling herself 'Serafima', whispering painfully through a sore throat. Since three members of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, were tried and sent to labour camps last year, Pussy Riot has been attacked in almost every press outlet in Russia. The international outcry on their behalf goes unmarked. “Katya did not realise there was so much support until she was released. When we were in Russia, we didn’t fully understand, but now we see there truly is huge support,” says Serafima. She asks for a translation of a German proverb she knows: “Nobody is a prophet in their own country.”

20 Jun 2013
Show Trials and Sympathy

By Sophie Pinkham
June 19, 2013

Last week, a new documentary about Pussy Riot aired on HBO. Two anonymous Pussy Riot members attended the premiere in New York, bumping shoulders with Salman Rushdie and Patti Smith but skipping the “Riotinis” at the Russian-themed SoHo afterparty. One year after the trial, the world is still on a first name basis with Nadya Tolokonnikova, Masha Alyokhina, and Katya Samutsevich, the “Pussy Riot girls,” the ones who got caught. 

The Pussy Riot trial was only the first in a string of pseudo-legal proceedings meant to punish the opposition and teach the public a lesson, but it’s still the one that’s made the biggest splash abroad. The prosecutions of Aleksei Navalny, one of the Russian opposition’s strongest leaders, and of twenty-seven people arrested in connection with the political demonstrations on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square have been equally absurd, hollow, and unfair. But they haven’t become pop culture phenomena in the way the Pussy Riot trial did; they don’t have the same simple hook or punk rock appeal. 

Any trial that exists only to justify punishment is a kind of “show trial,” a performance rather than a judgment. Such trials have a long history in Russia. In the 19th century, Russia’s greatest lexicographer recorded proverbs and sayings that included, “Where there’s a court, there is falsehood,” and “Go before God with the truth, but before the courts with money.” Show trials come in many flavors, though Stalin’s are the ones we remember best. The stakes in the recent trials have been far lower than those in Stalinist trials: fortunately, no one was ever at risk of being shot. Putin doesn’t have Stalin’s iron grip, and in all of the politically motivated trials of the last year there have been plenty of loud, dissenting voices, both inside and outside the courtroom. In fact, these modern show trials have more in common with the lesser-known trials of the Brezhnev era and late imperial Russia, periods that saw authoritarian governments losing control of their narrative, upstaged by another, more compelling show—the defense.

24 Apr 2013
Russia: Worst Human Rights Climate in Post-Soviet Era

Selected From Human Rights Watch

April 24, 2013

(Moscow) – The Russian government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society in the year since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency that is unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history.

The 78-page report, “Laws of Attrition: Crackdown on Russia’s Civil Society after Putin’s Return to the Presidency,”describes some of the changes since Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012. The authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, begun a nationwide campaign of invasive inspections of nongovernmental organizations, harassed, intimidated, and in a number of cases imprisonedpolitical activists, and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies. The report analyzes the new laws, including the so-called “foreign agents” law, the treason law, and the assembly law, and documents how they have been used.

“The new laws and government harassment are pushing civil society activists to the margins of the law,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government crackdown is hurting Russian society and harming Russia’s international standing.”

Many of the new laws and the treatment of civil society violate Russia’s international human rights commitments, Human Rights Watch said.

11 Apr 2013
Jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to continue activism

Miriam Elder
The Guardian
April 8, 2013

A member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot has vowed to continue her work as a political artist in her first interview with the western media since being sent to prison eight months ago.

Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova, 23, sounded defiant in the 15-minute telephone interview from her prison colony in Mordovia, a central Russian region infamous for its high number of prison camps. She has been at the distant women's penal colony since October, serving the remainder of a two-year sentence on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Tolokonnikova and two other members of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were found guilty in August last year after they performed a song criticising Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox church in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Samutsevich was later given a suspended sentence.

In a phonecall monitored by prison officials, who repeatedly interrupted the conversation in order to prevent Tolokonnikova from talking about politics, the Pussy Riot founder said she had no hope that Putin's government would release her early.

A court in Mordovia is due to hold a parole hearing in Tolokonnikova's case on 26 April. Although the interview was held one day after the parole hearing date was set, Tolokonnikova, who has been kept largely in an information vacuum, said she had not heard the news.

"For me, the parole hearing means nothing," she said. "In our case, the government wants us to recognise our guilt, which of course we won't do," Tolokonnikova said. "I submitted the parole documents to show that they cannot break a person."

Pussy Riot's supporters have accused Putin of orchestrating the case against them. The women carried out their 40-second cathedral performance in the runup to a contested March presidential election that brought Putin back to the Kremlin. The highly publicised trial against them signalled the start of a sweeping crackdown on the opposition.

Tolokonnikova has also continued to appeal against her guilty verdict through the Moscow court system, and is one step away from it reaching the country's pliant supreme court. Late on Sunday, a leading judge in the Moscow appeals court denied that the case against the women of Pussy Riot was political. "We don't hear political cases," Olga Yegorova said in an interview with state-run NTV television. "It is in my power to lessen their sentence – it's not excluded that that will happen."

The case against Pussy Riot, conducted at lightning speed and rife with procedural abnormalities, highlighted the politicised nature of Russia's court system. Their guilty verdict sent a warning signal to the largely young and urban opposition, while the state's representation of Pussy Riot's performance as an attack on the church pandered to the post-Soviet growth in religious sentiment in the Russian heartland.

The next political trial due to shake the nation is that of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny, whose trial is set to start in the city of Kirov, 500 miles from Moscow, on 17 April. He has been charged with embezzlement in a case he believes has been designed to silence him.

Before being cut off by a prison official, Tolokonnikova said: "I hope they don't have the impudence to jail him – because, after all, he is even more of a media figure among the people than the members of Pussy Riot, at least in Russia.

"I'm very happy he exists, as I'm happy that any political activist exists, especially someone who is willing to spend all his time and energy to change the political situation in Russia," she said.

Tolokonnikova spends her days adhering to a strict prison regimen dominated by work in the colony's factory, sewing uniforms for various Russian officials. She said she felt fine and that "it could be worse". She takes medicine daily for persistent headaches.

Asked if she had begun to think about life after prison, Tolokonnikova said: "My life isn't going to change – there will be new key components because of the experience I've gathered here. The vectors of politics and art will continue the same."

The prison routine leaves her little free time. Whatever time she gets goes towards reading books and the many letters from supporters delivered to her twice a week. Any information from the outside world comes from the newspapers and magazines that her relatives bring her during visits.

"I try to use all my time constructively – productively, creatively. I'm trying to learn how to relate to all this with interest, and I think I am achieving it," she said. "If your mood is bad, then time goes slow. If you learn to live paying attention to life and valuing it, even here, then time isn't lost.

"That's my main task: to make it so that the time they tried to take from me isn't lost. And I think I am successful."

04 Mar 2013
A Pale Reflection of Reality

March 4, 2013
By MASHA GESSEN for the NY Times

MOSCOW — The press materials called it “political theater.” Last Friday through Sunday, three of the most important Russian political trials of the last decade were to be re-enacted in compressed form by people who had either taken part in them or might have taken part in them. Staged by the Swiss director Milo Rau, the “Moscow Trials” series was being performed at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center, itself a contested space. It would be filmed, for airing on television, presumably anywhere but in Russia, where a Western view of these trials could hardly be broadcast to a wide audience.

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