ISSN 2330-717X

Russia’s Pussy Riot Go On Hunger Strike After Court Ruling

By

Members of the all-female Russian punk group Pussy Riot – who face up to seven years behind bars over an anti-Putin protest – went on hunger strike on Wednesday after what their legal team said was a court ruling reminiscent of Stalin-era repression.

“I am declaring a hunger strike, because this is unlawful,” suspect Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, told a packed Moscow courtroom after a judge had ruled to drastically reduce the time for the defense team to study case materials.

The ruling obliges the defense to finish their study of the materials by July 9. Lawyers had asked to be given until September 1.

Suspects Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were detained in March after five masked members of Pussy Riot performed a song in Moscow’s largest cathedral against what they said was church support for Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign..

The song, entitled “Holy S**t,” featured the lyrics “Virgin Mary, drive Putin out!” and came amid unprecedented protests against the twelve-year rule of the former KGB officer. The suspects admit being part of the Pussy Riot group, but say they did not take part in the protest in the landmark Christ the Savior cathedral. Putin called the protest “unpleasant.”

The group members have been charged with hooliganism as part of an organized group.

Police said around a dozen people were detained as Pussy Riot supporters rallied outside the courtroom in scenes that have become common during court hearings into what has rapidly become one of the most politically charged and divisive legal cases in modern Russia.

“The investigation is fulfilling a political order and the court is going along with this,” Polozov said towards the end of the often heated court hearing. “It was common to deny suspects the right to acquaint themselves with case materials in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.”

Lawyer Violeta Volkova called the ruling a “farce” and accused investigators and the state prosecutor of falsifying documents, an allegation met with silence by a federal prosecutor present at the hearing.

There was heavy security both before and during the hearing as masked Special Forces officers armed with Kalashnikovs stood guard in and outside of the sweltering courtroom during the five-hour-long hearing, which was closed to the public, but open to the media.

The suspects were led handcuffed into court and placed in a metal cage opposite the judge, usual practice for suspects in criminal cases in Russia.

“In Russia, anyone can end up in handcuffs,” shrugged Tolokonnikova, wearing a T-shirt bearing a clenched fist and the Spanish Civil War slogan “No pasaran!” (“They shall not pass”).

“This is nothing unique about this,” she said, dark shadows under her eyes after more than four months in a Moscow pre-trial detention center. But she smiled broadly as her husband, a member of the radical art group Voina, held up to her cage a newspaper report on a show of support for the group at a recent concert in Moscow by U.S. rock band Faith No More.

Police investigators accused the defense ahead of the trial of “dragging out their study of the case materials,” an allegation dismissed as “absurd,” by Polozov.

Another lawyer for the group, Mark Feigin, said of the seven volumes of case materials, lawyers and the suspects had so far only been granted total access to four, and that they had yet to receive copies of digital and audio material. “We physically can’t go faster and we will go to court totally unprepared,” he said.

Polozov told RIA Novosti during an interval in the hearing that he believed a trial would begin later this month and that the suspects could be jailed in August for “two or three years.”

“If they were planning to free them, they would have released them on bail,” he said.

The hearing came just days after a host of figures from Russia’s arts world, including some notable Putin supporters, signed a letter calling for the suspects to be released. The letter was later backed by the Kremlin’s own rights council. Amnesty International also named the suspects prisoners of conscience in April.

While a number of figures within Russia’s influential Orthodox Church have expressed disquiet at the continued detention of the suspects, Church head Patriarch Kirill criticized in March those believers he said were seeking leniency for the group.

And leading Church official Vsevolod Chaplin said last week that God had revealed to him his displeasure over the protest. “This sin will be punished in this life and the next,” Chaplin cited God as saying.

Pussy Riot first hit the headlines in January, when they raced through a musical diatribe against Putin on a snowy Red Square, calling for “Revolt in Russia!” and chanting “Putin’s got scared” before being detained by police.

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.

Ria Novosti

RIA Novosti was Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *