Published: March 14, 2012 (Issue # 1699)
Pussy Riot, the Moscow-based feminist all-woman punk group notorious for its unsanctioned performance, found itself under unprecedented pressure from the Kremlin when two alleged members were arrested on the eve of the March 4 presidential election.
The two women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, have been charged with criminal mischief committed by a group and face up to seven years in prison.
Despite the fact that the two women have small children and there is no evidence to suggest they present any danger, the court ruled that they should be kept in custody for two months while they wait for the trial.
The band is said to have insulted the feelings of religious people by entering the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and performing a song called “Madonna, Drive Putin Away” there on Feb. 21, before they were ejected by the church’s security guards.
During their performances, the members of Pussy Riot wear colored balaclavas and cannot be identified from the video, which is the only evidence.
According to Pussy Riot’s press release, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, who have gone on hunger strike to protest their imprisonment, deny belonging to Pussy Riot and taking part in the performance. Meanwhile, the group continues to receive threats via the Internet of rape and murder.
More than 2,000 believers including 23 priests were among almost 6,000 who signed a petition to Patriarch Kirill, head of the Orthodox Church, asking him to show mercy on the imprisoned women. It was delivered on Monday. On March 8, which was declared the International Day of Solidarity with Pussy Riot, a number of protests were held.
Opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov took part in a picket near the Interior Ministry Department on that day. Yury Shevchuk, frontman of Russia’s leading rock band DDT, was among artists who spoke in support of the arrested women.
Thirty officers took part in the arrests of the two women, who were treated as if they were terrorists, while five senior investigators are working on the case, according to Pussy Riot.
Some of the investigators have admitted that the orders came “from the very top,” the group says.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, admitted that his boss did not like the song.
It appears that it was no coincidence that the arrests took place on March 3 — the day before the voting, which was marked by large-scale violations in favor of Putin — with the aim of scaring protesters and dissenting artists.
The feelings of believers are merely being used as a pretext for political repression.
Novaya Gazeta reported this week that the alleged band members had been offered immediate release by Channel One television in exchange for an on-air apology on a popular talk show, which is chillingly reminiscent of Stalin’s 1930s show trials and dissidents’ television repentances of the 1970s and 1980s.
Free Pussy Riot!