News / Europe

Analysts See Freedom of Speech in Russia Slowly Eroding

Feminist Russian punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, Maria Alekhina, front, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, are escorted to a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, August 17, 2012.
Feminist Russian punk group Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, Maria Alekhina, front, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, are escorted to a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, August 17, 2012.
Rizwan Syed
LONDON — Analysts say the "hooliganism" trial in Moscow for three punk musicians who staged a protest in a Russian Orthodox cathedral weakens Russia's freedom of speech and underlines the vast influence in Russia of the Orthodox Church. Three women from a music group they call "Pussy Riot" were found guilty Friday and sentenced to two years in prison for performing a song styled as a prayer for the ouster of President Vladimir Putin. Experts say the case weakens freedom of speech in Russia.

Analysts say this trial and sentencing is proof that the Russian government will continue with attempts to silence political dissent in the future.

James Nixey is an analyst with the Royal Institute for International Affairs, the think-tank known as Chatham House. He offers a definition of free speech-Moscow style.

"Criticism is allowed. However, when it is too widely publicized or when it is too personal, then it is not allowed. When the criticism is of the president himself in particular, when it is of his personal wealth, for example, or corruption aspects, or criminal aspects high up within the regime, then the state begins to crack down. So in other words there are limits," said Nixey.

Nixey says Russia under the leadership of President Putin, a former KGB officer, is veering toward the old Soviet style of governance.

"He's been in power for 13 years now and Russia isn't really changing, insofar as it's not becoming a more pluralistic society," said the analyst. "It's not becoming part of the West and it's in some ways retrenching back into the Soviet Union. It's creating its own structures within that post-Soviet space so it very much fits in with Putin's idea as a Eurasianist, if you like - somebody who believes in the value of the Soviet Union space as a continued area."

Three women from a Russian punk band known as "Pussy Riot" now have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment for a brief anti-Putin protest six months ago on the altar of Moscow's largest orthodox cathedral. The judge who pronounced them guilty, Marina Syrova, said the charge of "hooliganism" was justified because the women "crudely undermined social order" in their protest, which was motivated by religious hatred.

The women say they were trying to illustrate the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy's strong political support for Putin, who had not yet been re-elected president.

Nixey says the outcome of the case will encourage the Russian government to further prosecute political dissent.

"The extent to which I think some of those opposition leaders' freedom to remain at large will remain is now open to question. It is probable that the current 'Pussy Riot' trial will simply harden the authorities' resolve in believing that they can get away with fairly arbitrary incarcerations of critical individuals," he said.

Susan Larsen, who lectures on Russian culture at the University of Cambridge, thinks Putin's government is trying to tighten its grip on power through an alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The, what you could call the Putinocracy, has been manipulating the laws in order to maintain its grip on power," she said. "And part of that attempt to maintain a grip on power is through alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church. This is just the visible tip of an iceberg of rapidly increasing repression and clamp-down on many different forms of political activity."

Critics of the punk protesters, however, say their stunt was an insult to the Russian Orthodox Church, and they should have been punished even more harshly.

Larsen contends those sentiments will have little impact inside Russia.

"The trial itself can't have an impact on opinion inside the country until the mass media, mainly the broadcast media, start to report on it in an even-handed way. The country itself is going to mobilize not around freedom of speech but it's going to mobilize around the fight against corruption," she said.

Large crowds of "Pussy Riot" supporters gathered in Moscow for the trial on Friday, and there also were also sympathetic protests in Paris, Belgrade, Berlin, Sofia, London, Dublin and Barcelona, as well as personal statements of support for the women from artists including Paul McCartney and Madonna.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jimmy from: knoxville, tn
August 19, 2012 7:53 AM
THE LAST TIME CHECKED, if the singer had discicrated a jewish temple or a catholic church in USA or Britain, they would have let them go & not charge with HATE CRIME/FELONY!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs