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.
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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.

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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Comments
     
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!

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