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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face 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 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 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 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.

VOA Blogs