In Sham Trial, Pussy Riot Found Guilty, Sentenced to Two Years

by: Blaine Skrainka

August 17, 2012

The three members of the group Pussy Riot, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been found guilty by a Russian court for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” and sentenced to two years in prison.  The three women appeared outwardly upbeat and remained defiant after the verdict was read as the courtroom echoed with chatter and the barking of guard dogs.

By now, most of you know the basics. The Riot Grrrl-inspired Russian feminist punk band has already been imprisoned since March for their “punk prayer” at the altar of a Russian Orthodox Church, drawing international outrage and exposing the corruption of the faux-Democractic Russian State. 

Over the last five months, the story gained traction  in the media, and swelled in recent weeks as scores of Western pop artists publicly backed the cause. Amnesty International calls the women of Pussy Riot “Prisoners of Conscious,” and delivered 70,000 signed petitions from around the globe calling for their release earlier this week — only to be dumped on the sidewalk by Kremlin diplomats outside of the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Pussy Riot in courtroom aquarium

The trial has been an absolute sham by all accounts. A verbally combative judge showed no interest in due process, as exampled by her declining to hear 14 of 17 defense witnesses. Over the last few weeks, the defendants have been made to sit in a glass case during the trial, with guard dogs patrolling the the room. Court sessions lasted 10-11 hours each. A guilty verdict was basically a foregone conclusion. According to the New York Times, the Moscow city court system had a conviction rate of 99.3 percent last year. The only decision today was a political one: how would Putin navigate balancing an image of modernization while maintaining his iron fist and not bending to Western pressure. He chose to lean on the latter.

During closing statements last week, defendant Maria Alyokhina said:

“This trial is not only a malignant and grotesque mask, it is the “face” of the government’s dialogue with the people of our country.

Having spent almost a year in jail, I have come to understand that prison is just Russia in miniature.”

The trial and subsequent guilty verdict make clear the growing insidious relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The pretense under which the sham trial was held was that Pussy Riot had offended the “true believers.” They had offended the patriarchs of the church (including this guy). No matter that there is no evidence to support this accusation. 

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said:

“Passion, total honesty, and naïveté are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own.

I don’t want to label anyone. It seems to me that there are no winners, losers, victims, or defendants here. We all simply need to reach each other, connect, and establish a dialogue in order to seek out the truth together. Together, we can seek wisdom and be philosophers, instead of stigmatizing people and labeling them. That is the last thing a person should do.”

During the reading of the verdict Judge Marina Syrova said the Pussy Riot members “imitated demonic attacks.”

Yekaterina Samutsevich:

“Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Out’ violated the integrity of the media image that the authorities had spent such a long time generating and maintaining, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch’s blessing, to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture with that of protest culture, thus suggesting that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch, and Putin, but that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia.”

We often refer to the three individuals as one: Pussy Riot. We think of them as a balaclava-clad group of heroines fighting the Putin machine. This is all true, but it is important to humanize the trio at the same time as we lionize them. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is just 22 years-old. She has a 4 year-old daughter and is a student of philosophy. Maria Alyokhina, also a mother, studies journalism and creative writing. Yekaterina Samutsevich, the eldest at a mere 30 years, is known especially for her LGBT advocacy. All three have a history of fighting for humanitarian and environmental justice through nonviolent direct action and protest art.

Maria Alyokhina:

“All you can deprive me of is “so-called” freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.”

The world is watching, Russia. Free Pussy Riot.

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