News / Europe

Russia Frees One Punk Rocker, Keeps Two in Jail

Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" (L-R) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow, October 10, 2012.
Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" (L-R) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow, October 10, 2012.
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— As Russian Orthodox believers prayed and sang hymns, a Moscow judge on Wednesday freed one Pussy Riot punk protester but upheld the two-year jail sentences for the other two.

The three women were arrested in February after they slipped into Russia’s largest Orthodox cathedral and performed a lightning, one-minute “punk prayer” imploring the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Several days later,  Putin won the presidential election - and a six-year term. Before the election, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had called  Putin’s 12 years ruling Russia “a miracle of God."

Political, Not Religious

On Wednesday, one of the jailed punkers, Yekaterina Samutsevich, spoke to the court.

“Our act was political, not religious,” she said. “For that reason, there was no crime.” She and the other two musicians said they were protesting the gradual merging of church and state in Russia.

But her lawyer came up with a more persuasive argument. She said that cathedral guards had stopped Samutsevich before she had time to get her guitar out of its case.

Under the new ruling, the other two women, both mothers of small children, will have to stay in jail until their sentences run out - about one year from now. One of them, Maria Alyokhina, vowed in court not to keep quiet, even if she serves her prison sentence in Siberia.

Defense lawyers complained that President Putin influenced the case when he told state television Sunday night that the Pussy Riot women got what they "wanted."

Outside the court, Karil Fralog agreed, saying, “The president’s words sent a key signal that he is on the side of the Orthodox majority of Russian citizens, that he is our president. Glory to Russia!”

  • Freed feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich speaks outside a court in Moscow, Oct. 10, 2012. A Moscow appeals court freed one of the jailed members, but upheld the two-year prison sentence for the two others.
  • Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Wednesday. Oct. 10, 2012.
  • A bailiff stands in a room as people watch a live broadcast of a court hearing on members of the punk band in Moscow October 10, 2012.
  • Yekaterina Samutsevich after she was freed from the courtroom in Moscow October 10, 2012.
  • Pussy Riot members sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Oct. 10, 2012.
  • Yekaterina Samutsevich at a court room in Moscow, Oct. 10, 2012.
  • Maria Alekhina in a glass cage at a court room in in Moscow, Oct. 10, 2012.

Media Impacts Support


The three women were first convicted in August. Since then, state TV has steadily attacked them. This media barrage seems to be turning public opinion. In a nationwide Levada poll taken two weeks ago, only 14 percent of respondents described the two-year sentences as excessive - about half the level of before.

Outside Russia, support for the group has been strong. Statements of support have come from Madonna, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and other musicians.

Outside the Moscow court Wednesday, Yelena Gluzhka was handing out buttons with the trademark ski mask logo of the Pussy Rioters.

She said she was delighted to hear that on Tuesday, the European Parliament placed Pussy Riot among its finalists for the European Union’s annual Sakharov human rights prize.

“This nomination shows what kind of country we live in,” Gluzhka said, adding that Western Europeans do not see the Pussy Riot protesters as guilty of a crime.

In Moscow, Russia’s parliament, or duma, is taking steps in a different direction. It is preparing a law that would stipulate jail sentences of up to five years for “blasphemy” - defined as including interrupting religious services or desecrating religious symbols.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: George Hayduke from: Swamps
October 10, 2012 8:57 PM
but is their music any good ?


by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
October 10, 2012 11:05 AM
The Appeals court recognized gross incompetence of the previous court of law that convicted Samutsevich (in August) not having proved that she actually had taken part in the protest. The girl was unlawfully detained, held many months under arrest and convicted without any legal ground. Her verdict was passed contrary to the Criminal Procedure code of Russia. It gave an example that even in such high profile cases Putin’s legal system is unprofessional and manipulated.

In Response

by: Jeffrey from: USA
October 10, 2012 8:27 PM
In response to Gennady,

Maybe this ruling today demonstrates that Putin does not control the legal system, that after reviewing the facts a reversal was made once the evidence was made available.

The courts eventual make the right decision, sometimes it takes time.

In Response

by: James from: Germany
October 10, 2012 7:49 PM
I do not think the opinion reflected in the poll is a result of the state media campaign. I think it's owing to Russian (Soviet) history, when in the last century Christian believers were interupted, interfered with, mocked, bullied and ultimately imprisoned and killed by the millions--this was mostly done by ordinary citizens considering themselves revolutionaries at the urging of the atheist government. Protecting religious practicioners means something completely different to Russians than it does it the west. None of these stories have that context. Also, this Cathedral they chose to desecrate was once demolished by the communists and only rebuilt in 2000. It is a symbol of the reemergence of religious freedom in Russia.

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