Russia: HRF legal report on the Pussy Riot case concludes: Punk rock band should be acquitted
MOSCOW (August 16, 2012)—The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) published a legal report on the ongoing criminal case against three members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot. The report analyzed the case under the European standard of protection of freedom of expression and concluded that the arrest, bail denial, and criminal trial against the three women violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A district court verdict and sentence on the case is expected on Friday, Aug. 17, in Moscow.
“These young women have committed no crime. Their protest performance, while it understandably offended some at the church that day, constitutes political speech that should be unconditionally protected,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “Having them imprisoned without bail for over five months is unacceptable. Anything but acquittal tomorrow will be a disgrace and another slap in the face of civilized standards of justice. If they are not acquitted it will be more proof that so-called Russian democracy continues to erode under Putin. Without question, Pussy Riot will eventually obtain a favorable verdict at the European Court of Human Rights.”
Pussy Riot is a feminist punk rock group made up of 10 women between the ages of 20 and 33 who wear eccentric costumes with brightly colored balaclavas, tights and short skirts. The group was formed in 2011 in response to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to run for president for a third time. The band campaigns for individual rights, democracy, and reform of the Russian justice system.
On Feb. 21, 2012, Pussy Riot performed a “Punk Prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church, which openly endorsed Putin as he campaigned for a presidential reelection. As a result, in March 2102, three members of the group—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich—were arrested and charged with the crime of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Throughout April, May and June of 2012, the defendants were repeatedly denied bail. On July 20, 2012, a Moscow court ruled that all three women were to remain in pre-trial detention for an additional six months. The trial started on Monday, July 30, 2012, and a final verdict on the case is expected tomorrow at 3 p.m. Moscow time.
HRF's legal report indicates that the Constitution of the Russian Federation provides for freedom of speech, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights—Russia being a signatory to both—guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
“Disregarding Kremlin interference, this is a simple case,” said Kasparov. “If they convict Pussy Riot, there will be yet another indicator that Russia is in the hands of a despotic regime that ignores its own Constitution.”
The Pussy Riot case has garnered unprecedented international attention including, last week, a dramatic display of support for Pussy Riot by American pop singer Madonna. Additionally, artists across the world, including Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have come out in support of Pussy Riot. The case has become a banner for those arguing that it reveals the autocratic nature of the Putin government. On Aug. 3, 2012, President Putin asked the court to show “leniency” for the three women. While he criticized their performance, he said he “did not think they should be judged too harshly.” In the end, the prosecution asked for a sentence of three years imprisonment.
“Putin’s request for leniency in this case was a transparent public relations move, and is by all means hypocritical,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Given that Pussy Riot is a civil society group substantially and openly dedicated to criticizing Putin’s own government, a democratic move would have consisted of requesting that they be immediately acquitted given that they have violated no laws. In any case, we hope the court tomorrow will rule according to the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and set these women free.”
HRF protects and promotes human rights. HRF believes that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council is chaired by pro-democracy activist Garry Kasparov, and includes former prisoners of conscience George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Javier El-Hage, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, email@example.com