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September 11, 2012

Russian Lawyers, Legislator Claim Political Discrimination

by Jessica Golloher

A lawyer for punk rock band “Pussy Riot” says he is facing pressure from Kremlin officials for defending the convicted musicians.
 
Meanwhile, a Russian parliamentary committee says it has found sufficient evidence to oust an opposition deputy from the lower house of parliament.
 
The new allegations of political harrassment emerge ahead of protests of President Vladmir Putin that are set to take place this weekend.
 
Members of legal team questioned
 
According to Mark Feigin, attorney for the three band members convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, Russian authorities called him in for questioning about disturbances that occurred during a massive anti-Putin rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May.
 
While Feigin did attend a May 6 anti-Putin demonstration, which was sanctioned by authorities, along with thousands of others, it was shortly after Putin's inauguration for an unprecedented third presidential term that Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, increased fines for participating in unsanctioned protests more than 150-fold — more than the average Russian's annual salary.
 
The move, says some analysts and opposition leaders, was intended as a clear signal that Putin wouldn't tolerate dissent.
 
Nikolai Polozov, another lawyer for the all-female band, says his colleague’s summons is no coincidence, and that authorities had indicated there could be consequences for defending the band's decision to call on the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Putin on the altar of Russia’s most prominent Orthodox Cathedral in February.
 
"Authorities gave us a signal that if we continue to defend our defendants in the "Pussy Riot" case in this manner — I mean defend without compromise, without making any secret compromises or deals with the investigators and judge — then they will persecute us," said Polozov, adding that a third member of the "Pussy Riot" legal team was also called in for questioning. "What's happening now is a confirmation of our words: that officials have decided to put direct pressure on the lawyers."
 
Outspoken legislator targeted
 
​​Meanwhile, Gennady Gudkov, a three-term legislator from the socialist Just Russia party and a Duma deputy, says the Kremlin is targeting him with alleged ethics violations because he is an opposition leader.
 
"Officials couldn't find any damaging evidence against [me], any violations on [my] part," he said, explaining that they are trying to remove him from the State Duma because they are "afraid of the truth, afraid of critics, afraid of [my] stance."
 
A commission responsible for monitoring business activities of Russian lawmakers claims to have evidence that Gudkov is in violation of the law by co-owning and managing a construction-materials business and allegedly making money from a textile firm.
 
The commission's findings could allow the Duma to force Gudkov out just as opposition organizers have planned more rallies against Putin this weekend.
 
The Kremlin has consistently maintained that if leaders and ordinary Russians break the law, they must be punished.
 
"We are talking about the destiny of the Russian opposition, the destiny of the Russian protest movement," said Gudkov, adding that he still plans to attend an anti-Putin rally on Saturday. "We are discussing in general the destiny of the Russian people and the destiny of our country, because if the authorities continue to move forward on a path of political reprisal and non-judicial punishment, civil war will not be slow to come."