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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs