Jailed Pussy Rioters switch legal team. A move away from politics?
The lawyers for the two jailed members of Pussy Riot withdrew on Monday, saying the politicization of the case was impeding their ability to represent their clients.
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The three departing lawyers say they were repeatedly warned not to stage a political defense, or to cultivate international support for Pussy Riot, or they would be made to pay a price for it.Skip to next paragraph
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"The campaign to support Pussy Riot was so active, and it became an international cause," says Mr. Polozov.
"This case had a bad effect on the reputation of Russian justice, and became personally irritating to Putin, who has to answer questions about it on visits to Britain or meetings with Angela Merkel.... There is a massive official campaign aimed at discrediting the lawyers, and we fear it will have a negative impact on our clients," he says.
"We agreed to take on a political case, and we did. It was agreed with our clients that the trial would give them a chance to defend themselves on political grounds – this was their choice – and demonstrate the defects of the justice system. They knew from the start that they might go to prison, and they were ready for that," Polozov adds.
Political or religious offense
Many Russian conservatives have argued that the harsh two-year jail terms meted out to the women were because they had insisted on describing their protest as a political one, rather than a religious offense. The court refused to hear the political arguments, and focused on the charge that the Pussy Riot performance was motivated by "religious hatred" and was a crime against Orthodox believers.
In an October TV interview, an irritated-sounding Putin appeared to back the view that the women were punished for their stubborn defiance and insistence that they were political dissidents, and might have gotten off much more lightly if they'd read from the script prepared by official prosecutors.
"My first reaction was that they should ask believers for forgiveness and that would have been that," Putin said.
"But they kept building it up, and so the whole case ended in the court slapping them with two-year jail terms, so there you have it. I have nothing to do with this. They wanted it and they got it," he added.
Many experts point to the much lighter, suspended sentence handed to Samutsevich as an example of how things may go when the defendant, and the lawyers, approach the court in a more respectful manner.
"I don't support the Pussy Riot verdict, it was unjust, and it was political," says Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the independent International Institute of Political Expertise in Moscow.
"But it has to be noted that those lawyers politicized the trial. They were rude to the judge.... I know the majority of experts think the verdict was influenced by the behavior of the lawyers; maybe there was some impact but I don't think that was a crucial factor. I don't believe the authorities are seeking revenge against the lawyers, all that talk is greatly overblown," he adds.
Experts say that now all three women will be represented by Ms. Khrunova, whose approach is more practical, perhaps conditions for the imprisoned women may improve.
"The tactical situation has changed," says lawyer Polozov. "The [Pussy Riot women] don't need to argue their points any more. That should be replaced by the calm work of writing appeals and so on. They need a different kind of lawyer now."
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