Pussy Riot – Katia freed

Geoff Ryan examines the latest developments – and the double standards of Roman Abramovitch...

Yekaterina Samutsevich, one of the three jailed members of feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, was freed by a Moscow Court on 10 October. The appeal against the two year sentences imposed on the band members had been put back from 1 October after Katia had asked for new lawyers. She was able to argue successfully that she had not taken part in the ‘Punk Prayer’ protest in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral in February as she had been thrown out by security men as soon as she entered the cathedral. Which says a lot about the nature of the original trial.

The band were not allowed to call witnesses and some of the prosecution witnesses made claims that were clearly refuted by video evidence (e.g. that some Pussy Riot members had played guitars when none of them did so. The only guitar was the one carried by Katia which was seized at the door of the cathedral).

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/video/2012/aug/17/pussy-riot-release-new-single-video for video of the Cathedral performance

The judge was clearly biased while the prosecution did not even bother to question the three accused. So it is not surprising that a small detail such as whether or not someone did or did not actively participate in the protest was completely ignored at the original trial.

The freeing of Katia is a victory, but unfortunately a very small one. Katia is on probation, her sentence suspended and any future arrest would lead to her being returned to jail. She will no doubt be monitored very closely by the police, secret and regular police. And her two co-defendants Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had their two year sentences upheld and will soon be moved to prison camps. It took the appeal judges only 30 minutes to reject as mitigating circumstances the fact that both Masha and Nadya have small children and uphold the sentences for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ – despite the fact that all three defendants apologised if they had unintentionally hurt anyone’s religious feelings.

The two are likely to be sent to different camps to try to break their spirits, though during their detention awaiting trial and the appeal all three members were held on separate floors and were only able to communicate with one another in the court room. Russian women’s prisons are frequently tougher than those for men and TB is rife throughout the Russian prison system.

Some of the media immediately speculated that there was a split between the defendants and that Katia had been willing to trade her own freedom at the expense of Masha and Nadya. There is no truth in this whatsoever. Both Masha and Nadya welcomed Katia’s release and Katia made it clear in her first interview following her release that she intends to continue fighting for the release of her comrades and for the overthrow of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There is little doubt that Putin, with the backing of the Orthodox Church hierarchy, was behind the decision to take a hard line with Pussy Riot. Unlike Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who felt that the time the band members had spent in jail was sufficient punishment, Putin made it clear he wanted the original sentences to stand. Putin claimed the women ‘got what they asked for’ and expressed his disgust’ at the ‘indecent’ name of the band. Now Putin is not alone in finding the band’s name ‘indecent’: some newspapers, particularly in the United States, have refused to even mention the band’s name.

Though strangely enough Putin ally and owner of Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovitch does not appear to share his master’s squeamishness. He has not expressed any complaints about the use of the word ‘cunt’ in Chelsea captain John Terry’s abusive comment ‘fucking black cunt’ directed at Anton Ferdinand. (Indeed virtually all commentators on the affair, including the Football Association have only referred to the racist nature of Terry’s language and not to any sexism).

For some men, at least, it is perfectly acceptable to use a slang word for women’s genitals as an insult but it is totally unacceptable for women themselves to use a slang word for their genitals as a way of protesting against sexism in society. The name Pussy Riot was deliberately chosen to draw attention to the increasing sexism and marginalisation of women in Putin’s Russia.

While two members of the collective are reported to have fled abroad others have continued to protest in Russia. The band have released an anti-Putin song and some members abseiled down a wall to burn a photo of Putin. Further protests will follow last weekends local elections in which Putin won 77 out of 83 regions and all five of the governorships up for election after yet more massive fraud.

At her appeal Nadezhda Tolokonnikova warned Putin ‘that everything you are doing…will lead to a civil war in Russia’. We are certainly not yet at that stage but Putin’s attempts to silence opposition are certainly backfiring. The willingness of Pussy Riot to stand up to him, to go to jail if necessary, to organise opposition among other prisoners has shown Putin is vulnerable and has inspired others.

In Germany the town council of Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where the Protestant Reformation was launched 500 years ago has nominated Pussy Riot for the national Martin Luther prize, arguing that the band has shown the same moral courage as Luther.

And on Sunday we had our own ‘Pussy Riot’ in Britain when four women from Occupy chained themselves to the pulpit of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, asking the church to condemn the greed of the City of London.

We need to continue to argue for the freeing of Masha and Nadya and the overturning of the sentences. They will probably appeal to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg: if they do a campaign needs to be mounted to ensure the verdicts and sentences are overturned.

The courage and defiance of Pussy Riot is an inspiration to us all. They have been willing to risk their freedom, lose contact with their children, suffer isolation, meagre rations and poor quality food to protest against Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime and to draw attention to the position of women in Russian society. They deserve out full support.

see www.freepussyriot.org for more information

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