In Russia, One-Minute Protest Brings Two Years in Jail


Pussy Riot, if you somehow don’t know, is a Russian punk-rock collective of feminist activists. They visibly oppose the recent return of President Vladimir Putin.

Kirill I of Moscow is a Russian Orthodox bishop. Since 2009, he’s been Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. He supports Putin. In fact, at a Feb. 8 meeting of religious leaders, he called the Putin era “a miracle of God.” He followed that by chiding democratic-reform demonstrators who produce “ear-piercing shrieks.”

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Pussy Riot evidently disagreed with the Patriarch. A month later, three of the punk group headed to Kirill’s place, Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They reportedly crossed themselves, bowed to the altar, and began singing, asking the Virgin Mary “to drive Putin away.” The song also includes a line saying Kirill believes in Putin rather than God. But they may not have gotten that far. It took less than a minute for guards to show them the cathedral doors.

Then it took nearly a month, but on March 3, authorities arrested Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, then on March 16 they brought in Ekaterina Samoutsevitch.

Five days later, Kirill condemned the women’s action as “blasphemous.” He added how the “Devil has laughed at all of us…We have no future if we allow mocking in front of great shrines, and if some see such mocking as some sort of valor, as an expression of political protest, as an acceptable action or a harmless joke.”

A federal prosecutor called for prison terms because the three punk powerhouses had “abused God.”

An army of musical artists from Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend and Bjork to Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers voiced support for the jailed women. Pussy Riot was even recently nominated for the prestigious Kandinsky Prize, named after Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and designed to promote worldwide the development and prestige of Russian contemporary art.

None of that seemed to matter. Today the court convicted the three women of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Judge Marina Syrova sentenced each to two years in prison. They could have received up to seven years.

The arrest and conviction appears part of a broader effort to quell protest in Russia, according to the Toronto Star:

The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Another measure requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”

Following the sentencing, guess what? Protests broke out worldwide. Says Associated Press:

Supporters of the punk rock band Pussy Riot bared their breasts, covered their faces with ski masks and cross-dressed Friday in a series of raucous protests that stretched from New York to Copenhagen to denounce the musicians’ conviction in a Russian court. reported:

In New York City, a march began at 9 a.m. at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, followed by the Russian Consulate on East 91st Street. The NYPD were warning the group that they were “obstructing a public sidewalk.”

Then the arrests started.

In Washington, a White House spokesperson today said the administration was disappointed in the three women’s “disproportionate sentences.”

Meanwhile, President Obama was facing some protests of his own. Handfuls of Bradley Manning supporters and immigration activists, including men wearing T-shirts reading “Iraq Veterans Against the War,” occupied the Oakland and Portland Obama campaign headquarters, leading to arrests. They reportedly were objecting to Obama in April 2011 saying publicly that Manning had broken the law, which the protesters feel prejudiced any trial for Manning, who allegedly fed military documents to Wikileaks. The occupying effort coincides with Ecuador this week granting asylum to Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Some occupiers also opposed the president’s immigration policies.