Home Page > News Item > RUSSIA: PEN Joins Calls for Release of Pussy Riot Band Members

RAN 22/12 26 April 2012

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee joins international condemnation of the imprisonment of three members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot. Last week, on 19 April, their pre-trial detention was extended until 24 June. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been held since 4 March, and Ekaterina Samusevich since 15 March. By the next trial hearing, they will have been held for well over three months without trial. PEN believes that the women are being treated particularly harshly because of the lyrics of Pussy Riot’s song that was performed without authorisation at St Saviour’s Cathedral in Moscow on 21 February. It is calling for the women’s release.

On 21 February, four members of the all-female punk rock band, Pussy Riot, entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, wearing brightly coloured outfits and balaclavas masking their faces. For a few minutes they danced in front of the altar, singing their “punk prayer” before being removed from the building.

Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich were arrested some days later and charged with “hooliganism” under Article 213 of the Russian Criminal Code, which carries a maximum seven-year gaol term. While the three women are part of the band, they say that they were not among the performers at the Cathedral. On 19 April, Tagansky Court in Moscow extended their detention to 24 June saying that more time was needed to find further witnesses and participants at the event. The demonstrations outside the court and statements from the three women were widely covered in the press.

According to reports and videos of the event, there was no damage to the premises, or violence. It is clear that the women are being treated particularly harshly because of the lyrics of the song they performed. Entitled Holy Sh*t, it lashes out at Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the it includes the lines “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!” Amnesty International, which considers the women as prisoners of conscience, states: Even if the three arrested women did take part in the protest, the severity of the response of the Russian authorities – the detention on the serious criminal charge of hooliganism – would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful – if, to many, offensive – expression of their political beliefs. Read the AI statement in full.

The band had already become famous for other actions. It was formed in late 2011 by a group of feminists to protest Putin’s decision to return as President. Over the following months, they staged sudden unannounced “flash” performances in public places, including on public transport. They came to international attention in January 2012, when they held a brief performance, shouting out lyrics “Revolt in Russia – the charisma of protest! Revolt in Russia, Putin’s got scared! outside the Kremlin. Then they were briefly arrested and fined. For more detail of the arrest and the band see Freemuse, the organisation that works against music censorship:

Support in Russia is high with even mainstream pop artists calling for their release, among them the iconic singer Alla Pugachyova, who has held pop star status through the Soviet era to the present day. She described the arrests as “shooting sparrows with a cannon”. There have been numerous protests in support of the band. Most recently around 100 people demonstrated outside the court on 19 April, with about 20 arrested. Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia strongly accused the band as “defiling” the church and called for harsh penalties, while other Orthodox believers have expressed disquiet at this hardline stance and have asked that the women be shown leniency.

Meanwhile the three women face the prospect of another 6 weeks in prison, two of them are separated from their children. At the 19 April hearing, Tolonnikova spoke of the distress that her four year old daughter is suffering because of the imprisonment of her mother. Read more about the Pussy Riot support and activities in their support follow the Free Pussy Riot website http://freepussyriot.org/

Appeals

Please send letters

Protesting the detention of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich;
Pointing out that they are being treated particularly harshly because of the contents of the song lyrics;
Referring to Russia’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rigths, ratified by Russia, and which protects the right to freedom of expression;
Further referring to the fact that the women will be held for more than three months without trial, this time breaching Article 9 of the ICCPR that guarantees the right not to be held in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods of time.

Address

You can send messages to President Medvedev on the Kremlin website http://eng.letters.kremlin.ru/ or by mail:

President Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian
Federation 23,
Ilyinka Street,
Moscow,103132
Russia

You may find that the Russian ambassador in your own country is more likely to respond to your appeals, so we recommend that you either write to him or her directly or send a copy of your appeal. You can find the Russian embassy in your country here.

Messages of solidarity to the prisoners can be sent via the FreePussyRiot website www.freepussyriot.org

**Please check with PEN Writers in Prison Committee if sending appeals after 23 June 2012**

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (02) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 74050339 Email: sara.whyatt@pen-international.org

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