Russia: Free Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot is a feminist punk rock group, three members of which have been imprisoned, tried and convicted on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after peacefully protesting against the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin’s government. HRF has designated the three members as prisoners of conscience of the Russian government and published a legal report on the case.

Pussy Riot was formed in 2011 in response to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to run for president for a third time. The feminist punk rock group is made up of ten women between the ages of 20 and 33 who wear eccentric costumes with brightly colored balaclavas, tights, and short skirts. The band campaigns for individual rights, democracy, and reform of the Russian justice system.

On February 21, 2012, three members of 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 presidential reelection. As a result, in March 2012, the three women—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich— were arrested and charged with the crime of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” On August 17, 2012, they were found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

HRF concludes in its report on the case that “Russia failed to establish that its interference with the defendants’ freedom of expression—the arrest, confinement, criminal trial, conviction and two-year prison sentence—was prescribed by law, pursued a legitimate aim, and was necessary to achieve that aim.” The report concludes: “Russia has violated the European standard of freedom of expression that it is required to comply with under the European Convention on Human Rights.”