PEN International's Pussy Riot Trial Diary


August 2012- PEN International monitored the trial of the three members of Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, over eight days, capturing key moments on twitter at @pen_int. The court verdict will be given next week. The following is a day by day account.

Monday 30/07/2012

The trial of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich commenced in Moscow’s Khamonivchesky court on Monday 30 August, the same court where former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted for the second time in 2010. Hundreds of people packed into the courtroom as the three members of Pussy Riot were led in handcuffed – they would spend the rest of day locked in a bullet-proof glass cage.

Pussy Riot’s lawyer Violetta Volkova read a statement to the court from each member of the group . In her stirring address, Nadya Tolokonnikova said that their “punk prayer” was a reflection of many Russians’ discontent at the open support of Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Orthodox Church, for Vladimir Putin’s candidacy before the presidential election on March 4.

“Our aim is to change the situation in Russia [for the] better and our motives were purely artistic and political,” said Tolokonnikova, a position that Pussy Riot and their defence team maintained through the trial.

“I am taking it as the start of a repressive authoritarian campaign which aims to hamper the public’s political activity and build a sense of fear among political activists,” another member of the group wrote in her statement.

All members of the band pleaded not guilty to “abusive actions motivated by religious hatred”, and agreed that whilst what they did was an “ethical mistake” it was not meant to offend anyone.

Tuesday 31/07/2012

The scorching July day in a Moscow court started with clashes among journalists covering the trial; just before the start of the trial the spokesman of the court announced that the hearing would be moving to a smaller court with less seating capacity and that taking pictures and video was banned. Many journalists continued their coverage via Twitter.

Pussy Riot’s lawyers accused the judge of torturing the three defendants, stating that they had barely been allowed to sleep the night before, and had not been given food or drink since Monday.

The morning session commenced with the defence immediately attempting to file a motion demanding the judge’s resignation. The motion was denied.

Prosecution witnesses, Christians who had been at the Cathedral when the band had performed their prayer, claimed to suffer from severe moral wounds and showed reluctance to forgive the band members.

One high-ranking priest stated: “It was a sin against God and it is God that is judging it,” referring to Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer”.

As the trail continued into the evening, the defence team discovered that some of the case materials had been falsified, evidenced by similar wording and identical spelling mistakes in all the statements.

Wednesday 01/08/2012

The third day of the trial begun with a court decision to restrict journalists’ media coverage of the trial. Online reports from the courtroom were no longer permissible in an attempt to limit influence on witnesses waiting to give evidence by statements of preceding witnesses.

“We are monitoring all websites,” the court’s press secretary warned.

Prosecutor’s witnesses claimed that they did not see any political subtext in the Pussy Riot’s performance, with one witness claiming that the girls wanted to declare war on God.

Proceedings were stopped in the early afternoon and an ambulance was called as the Pussy Riot members said that they were unwell. All three members were examined by doctors and declared healthy enough to continue to stand for trial.

“They are not fed, and court sessions last up to 12 hours, during which they are only given 20-30 minutes for a small snack. They are then taken back to remand after midnight. They are also denied an evening meal and can only sleep for a few of hours,” explained attorney Polozov.

Thursday 02/08/2012

The trial was disrupted early on the fourth day due to a bomb threat. The building was evacuated while police with sniffer dogs searched the building. No explosives were found. Pussy Riot lawyer reported that the band members had remained in the court while police searched the building.

Prominent novelist and Russian PEN Member Ludmila Ulitskaya appeared at the courthouse. Opposition activist Aleksey Navalny was set to appear at the trial to testify, but the judge refused to hear the defence witnesses.

Friday 03/08/2012

As previously, the streets surrounding Khamovichesky Court were cordoned off and reinforced by police units as Pussy Riot supporters were crowded outside of the courthouse.

Judge Marina Syrova questioned witnesses and started studying the evidence, reading aloud the text from previous Pussy Riot performances. Some of the evidence presented by Syrova, such as a yellow hat and CD’s sparked laughter in the courtroom leading the prosecutors to ask the judge to evict those who had disrupted the court.

The atmosphere in the courtroom was tense; a police Rottweiler tried to attack the Pussy Riot girls, and could barely be restrained. Adding to the mayhem, three masked men climbed onto the roof of the building across the street from the courthouse lighting torches and chanting “Free Pussy Riot.” The protesters faced the windows of the courtroom and were some 20 meters away.

Monday 06/08/2012

Arguments continued to rage in the courtroom over the nature of the performance: was it political or religious? Pussy Riot lawyers and the judge continued to have heated exchanges leading to the defence filing the 7th recusal motion against the judge.

Tuesday 07/08/2012

Closing arguments begun with the prosecution demanding a three-year sentence for Pussy Riot. In their closing statement prosecutors maintained that the women’s act was not politically motivated but rather inspired by a deep hatred for Russian Orthodoxy.

In response, Pussy Riot’s defence team announced that they were ready to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights contesting the validity of the trial due its structural organisation. The bands defence team said: “In the course of these two weeks, we witnessed torture and regular inhuman treatment of the defendants.”

Wednesday 08/08/2012

Wednesday saw heartfelt closing statements from the band members themselves; Maria Alyokhina, 24, said to the court: “I’m not scared of you. I’m not scared of lies and fiction, or the badly formed deception that is the verdict of this so-called court. Because my words will live, thanks to openness. When thousands of people will read and watch this, this freedom will grow with every caring person who listens to us in this country.”

Nadya Tolokonnikova closed the defence arguments by quoting Pussy Riot lyrics: “Open the doors, remove the straps, and feel the air of freedom with us.”

As the defence concluded their closing statements the Pussy Riot girls were escorted out of the courtroom to resounding applause and cheering.

The verdict will be announced on 17 August at 3pm.