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More prison for feminist punk rockers riles liberal Russians

A Russian court refused to grant bail on Monday to three alleged members of the controversial feminist rock band Pussy Riot for alleged hooliganism.

By Correspondent / July 10, 2012

A combination photos shows members of female punk band 'Pussy Riot,' (l.-r.) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 4. Three members of the all-woman punk band 'Pussy Riot' were detained in February after they profaned an Orthodox altar by singing an obscene anti-Putin 'prayer' in Moscow's most important cathedral.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Moscow

The controversy over the provocatively named Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, which profaned an Orthodox altar by singing an obscene anti-Putin "prayer" in Moscow's most important cathedral, notched up this week when a court refused to grant bail to three of the female band's alleged members.

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The women will be held until a court date is set for their trial, which will not happen until at least July 24.

The band members were arrested and charged with "hooliganism" for their performance inside the church in February, although no one was hurt and no property was damaged. They could be imprisoned for two to seven years if convicted. The women, two of whom are mothers of young children, have been incarcerated in a Moscow pretrial detention center for almost six months. Amnesty International recognized them as prisoners of conscience in April.

The issue has divided Russian society into two camps. The first group thinks that their song represents an insult to the religious sensibilities of the majority, which ought to be a criminal offense punishable with jail time. A significantly smaller group – concentrated among Russia's intellectual and artistic communities – argues that while the women may be guilty of bad behavior, their actions should not be considered a serious crime in any secular society. Legal experts now agree, warning of a decrease in public confidence in the Russian judiciary and government institutions.

Some 35,000 people have signed an Internet petition calling for the women's release, and last month more than 100 prominent Russian artists, musicians and public intellectuals signed an open letter to the Kremlin that declared "the criminal case against Pussy Riot compromises the Russian judicial system and undermines confidence in government institutions on the whole."

Some liberals insist that the surprisingly harsh prosecution of the women is being pushed by the Kremlin at the behest of the Orthodox Church, which has grown in political power in recent years and increasingly takes public stands on social matters such as the way Russian women dress and anti-religious artistic expressions. The church denies any direct involvement in the case.

No coincidence

The bizarre stunt carried out by the punk group last February in a priests-only section of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior – a punk prayer "to redeem us from Putin" – might have passed almost unnoticed at almost any other time.

But it happened as Vladimir Putin launched his successful but controversial bid for a third term as Russia's president, amid a rising street protest movement calling for democratic reforms, and just as unprecedented exposes were appearing in the media about the luxurious lifestyle of the powerful Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

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