Pussy Riot: The Trial

The punk band face seven years in jail for protesting against Vladimir Putin. As the trial begins, we speak to a member of a Free Pussy Riot support group

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We may only be a few days into the London Olympics, but yesterday all eyes - and Twitter feeds - were firmly set on Moscow as the Pussy Riot case went to trial. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich have been held in custody for the past five months after holding an impromptu anti-Putin performance in a Moscow Cathedral. Sitting behind bulletproof glass, the three women began by apologising for causing offence but said it was unfair to call them "anti-religious extremists", as their protest didn't target those who worshipped at the Orthodox church, but rather the church's support of Vladimir Putin. Many observers believe it's the former KGB officer’s close ties to the religious institution that's partly responsible for the harsh handling of the case.

Accused of hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred – a crime which can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison – according to the Russia Studies Centre, the three Pussy Riot members told the judge, “We do not understand the charges brought against us, so we cannot plead whether guilty or not.” In a letter to the court Samutsevich said "Our criminal case is political censorship from the side of the authorities, the start of a campaign of authoritarian, repressive measures aimed at lowering the level of political activism and provoking a feeling of fear among citizens who hold opposition views.” The pressure group Free Pussy Riot have been fighting for the women’s freedom since March. Dazed asked one of its members to share his thoughts on the trial so far...

Dazed Digital: Firstly, who are you? And why have you taken on this cause?
Robert Lieber: I am part of an international support team working for the release of the detained members of Pussy Riot. We have been working on the support site www.freepussyriot.org. As part of an art group, I automatically understood where Pussy Riot were coming from. I am an artist and Art + Art History teacher and quickly saw how I may be able to help explain Pussy Riot’s actions to people and advocate their release. 

DD: How are the women feeling? Are they pleased with all the media attention the case has received?
Robert Lieber: Masha, Nadia and Katja have very strong positive spirits. They are pleased and honored by the support. Here is an English translation of a recent letter to supporters release on July 24, 2012.

"Perhaps our behavior is perceived by many as defiant and obnoxious. This is not the case.
 We are in desperate circumstances, in which indifference is difficult to maintain.
We are happy to hear of those who support us in this process, however the harshness and rudeness of our opponents are still puzzling. Anyway, we would like to thank the understanding and merciful people who urge both sides to engage in a dialogue and not in mutual scolding.
We emphasize that we advocate for non-violence and hold a grudge against no one; our laughter is, in a sense, laughter through the tears, and our sarcasm is a reaction to the lawlessness.
We ask our defenders, as well as the people who accuse us: be tactful, however painful and difficult it may be".

E. Samutsevich  
N. Tolokonnikova
M. Alekhina

DD: What did you make of the first day of the trial?
Robert Lieber: I think the trial started out quite well and took a drastic turn to the absurd. They were able to start the proceeding with a heartfelt apology to believers of the Orthodox Church, admitting to an ethical mistake in choosing the venue for their performance. Also it promised to start out as an open transparent hearing, there were several on-line sites to view the trial. RT.com even had English narration. But that did not last long. The prosecution asked that the camera be turned off to protect the identity of their witnesses, and the judge complied. The prosecutions’ witnesses included the altar boy, a candle seller, security guards and regular church goers, all of whom claimed they had suffered mental anguish from witnessing the 1 minute long performance. Comparing the women to demons and the devil were not allowed to be questioned by the women’s defense team. Words such as ‘feminist’ were treated as an expletive. 

Masha, Nadia and Katja were taken from their cell at 5am and not brought back until after the court session, no food or water is allowed between that time. Given that the judge held court until 10 pm on the first day, that leaves the women 17 hours without food or water, which the defense has equated to torture.

DD: Can you describe the effect Pussy Riot's case has had on the mood in Moscow
Robert Lieber: Moscow is full of wonderfully creative and intelligent people who have had enough of their desire for freedom being suppressed. In the middle of May a dozen authors of detective novels, children’s book, and poets stated that they were taking a walk from one end of Moscow to the other. By the time they were almost to the center of the city they had 15,000 people peacefully walking with them to their destination. It was the most beautiful moment. There is no turning back from this and other heroic moments where people are standing up to be able to just simply say what they want to say.
 People do see a dark cloud over the horizon that comes with the Pussy Riot trial, it is clearly a show trial for President Putin express his claim to power and the fear of more absurdness from Putin to come.

DD: Want can we do to support Pussy Riot?
Robert Lieber: Contact your countries Human Rights Commissioner, Parliament member, Foreign Secretary and ask them to speak out on the women’s behalf. Nina Hagen has recently appealed to her Orthodox brothers and sisters to ask the Russian Orthodox Church for mercy. Hosting solidarity events such as benefit concerts and rally at your local Russian Consulate or Embassy. You may also write to Masha, Nadia and Katja through the pussyriotsolidarity (at) gmail.com. If you visit freepussyriot.org you can find links to petitions and contact to Amnesty Internationals efforts to free the women.

You can follow the trial on Dazed's Storify page, more info HERE. More Dazed Digital pieces on the Pussy Riot situation can be found HERE

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