News / Europe

Punk Rockers' Trial a Gauge of Kremlin Will

Members of punk group Pussy Riot on trial in glass-enclosed courtroom cage, Moscow, July 30, 2012.
Members of punk group Pussy Riot on trial in glass-enclosed courtroom cage, Moscow, July 30, 2012.
James Brooke
MOSCOW — Since returning to the Kremlin as president three months ago, Vladimir Putin has signed a series of new laws curbing freedom of speech and assembly. In a court case on Monday, prosecutors took aim at three young women who they say insulted him personally.  

In a case that highlights Russia’s growing generation gap, the trio of feminist rock musicians whose band goes by the name Pussy Riot pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of hooliganism, stemming from their performance of an anti-Putin prayer in Moscow’s main Orthodox church.

On February 21, dressed in short skirts and wearing brightly colored balaclava hoods, the band performed a one minute "punk prayer," imploring the Virgin Mary to drive Putin away.

Two weeks later, Putin was elected to a third term as president, and today the women's trial is seen as a gauge of the president’s attitude toward dissenters. The women have been in jail for five months, and some people at the courthouse say Putin’s message is already clear.

Alexander Lebedev, a Russian billionaire active in democratic politics, linked the punk rocker case to the expected prosecution of Alexei Navalny, a blogger seen as the opposition’s most charismatic leader.

“I suddenly understood - from, actually, the Navalny case, which is fully fabricated, same as with these girls - there is only politics, nothing else," he said. "Just a kind of copy of the 1960s."

Lebedev predicts the president will continue to crack down on dissidents. Monday’s actions coincide within Putin's signing of a measure that sets criminal penalties for slandering judges and prosecutors.

In court, one of the women, Maria Alyokhina, spoke of a generational gap opening between young Russians and the nation’s political and religious hierarchy.

“As representatives of our generation, we are bewildered by [Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill's] actions and appeals," said Alyokhina's lawyer, Violetta Volkova, reciting her client's statement to the court. "We wanted and we want a dialogue.”

While the patriarch condemned the punk prayer staged at the cathedral as “blasphemous," a Levada Center opinion poll released Monday reported that only 17 percent of Russians interviewed supported the church leadership’s demand for harsh punishment.

Conviction could mean sentences of up to seven years for each of the defendants. A judge has already ruled during an earlier proceeding that the women, two of them mothers of young children, must stay in jail through January.

“[The women] wore clothes contradicting church rules to show their disrespect for the Christian world and the church," said a prosecutor, charging that the women intended to insult Christian believers.

In London, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the Times newspaper that some countries would be harsher than Russia in cases of offense against religion.

But younger Russians seem to be going in a different direction. At a recent protest demonstration in downtown Moscow, the loudest chants were for the punk group's freedom.

With the faces of the three young women becoming household images across Russia, the Kremlin may end up winning in the court of law - and losing in the court of public opinion.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
July 31, 2012 12:51 PM
The world witnesses that absurd “trial”, new charges against other critics & Navalny for penny-pinching sum (against billions $ stolen from the budget) from the past aren’t political but a personal vendetta of Mr. Putin & Co, who made the tool of revenge from the law. The verdicts of the ‘trial’ and the charges against critics & Navalny with 100% probability will be “guilty” because under Mr. Putin in Russia there are no more courts of law but courts of conviction with 99% guilty rulings

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 31, 2012 7:12 AM
That's a measure of Russian diplomacy and democracy. I once watched a chimp protect an antelope from other predators, It looked good until one day the chimp grabbed the innocent, unsuspecting and unprotected animal for its own meal. Vladimir Putin is not running Russia for someone else, he is not protecting Syria and Iran just to have friends: his mission is hidden, but only the sun will reveal all his hidden agenda in due time. The leaders of Russia, China, Syria and Iran are predators, and the subjects - the people - are mere prey. It's only a matter of time to see the man-eaters do their action.

by: Lara
July 31, 2012 2:23 AM
I don't think those who condemn the girls are true believers themselves!

by: Robert George from: Dubai
July 31, 2012 12:17 AM
The Pussy Riots band’s intention has been praiseworthy. But the place they chose to vent their anger and displeasure was wrong. Places of worship should be revered and left out of politics. Although the innuendo attached to their band’s name can be excused, what is disparaging is the way they chose to protest. However, these young women should be left off the hook with a stern warning or a light punishment.

by: Mike
July 30, 2012 4:41 PM
Russia is an authoritarian country. There is no independent judiciary in Russia and everything depends on the Russian Tsar Putin. Therefore, the trial of the girls are not valid. They will be sentenced to long terms in prison just because they sang a song against the Russian Tsar Putin.

by: Wyatt Larew from: Austin TX
July 30, 2012 4:23 PM
So when does the world consider Russia a Communist state again? I don't understand this is the furthest thing from a Democratic Government in the world! Ahh well I guess the US is right behind them but either way Authoritarian leaders can not claim to be a democratic society if this is Democracy The entire world need to Abandon the Democracy principle right now!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs