Pussy Riot members: Why they want to reform Russian prisons

Pussy Riot members were cleared of inciting religious hatred Friday by a Russian court. At the same time, Pussy Riot members were speaking out in New York on prisoners' rights.

By , Reuters

Two women from Russia's Pussy Riot protest group who were jailed for a song deriding President Vladimir Putin were cleared in a Moscow court on Friday of inciting religious hatred. At the same time, Pussy RIot members were speaking out for prisoners' rights in New York.  

The Russian court knocked only one month off their two-year sentences, upholding a charge of hooliganism.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spent nearly two years in prison after performing a protest song against Putin in Moscow's main cathedral in 2012.

Recommended: Sochi, Soviets, and tsars: How much do you know about Russia?

Many in the West criticized the harshness of the sentence, saying it was evidence of a clamp-down on dissent.

The two protesters were released in December, three months before completing their sentences, under an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution.

In the same month, Russia's Supreme Court ordered a review of their case, saying that lower courts overlooked mitigating factors, and did not provide evidence of a portion of the verdict that says they were motivated by "hatred of a certain social group".

The latest court ruling means the two remain convicted of hooliganism, a charge that carries up to seven years in prison.

On Friday, two Pussy Riot members attended the "Women in the World" summit in New York.

After serving their own prison terms doing hard labor, forced to sew military and police uniforms for up to 14 hours a day, the two members of Pussy Riot formed a new NGO, Zona Prava, to advocate for prisoners’ rights.

Prison exposes “the way the weakest person in society is treated,”  Nadya Tolokonnikova said, according to The Daily Beast. “It demonstrates the whole essence of the government mechanism.” Their goal with Zona Prava is to “teach the government to respect the weak,” Nadya said.

During the Winter Olympics in February, members of the Pussy Riot band were arrested in Sochi. The Christian Science Monitor reported:

Nadezhda Tolikonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, fresh from performing with Madonna at a human rights concert in the United States, were reportedly detained along with several other activists in Sochi Tuesday, allegedly in connection with a theft at their hotel. The activists say they were picked up to prevent them from making a political music video against the backdrop of Sochi. Reports say they were let go after questioning.

The venue for a Pussy Riot comeback was certainly well chosen, since the world's attention is riveted on Sochi and a gargantuan portion of Russian TV audiences are glued to Olympics coverage. The message that Pussy Riot had hoped to deliver, "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland," also takes square aim at the political subtext that has underlain the Sochi Games since Mr. Putin secured them for Russia seven years ago.

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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