Pussy Riot one year on - still imprisoned, still defiant

Pussy Riot had only been in existence for four months when, a year ago today, some of the group’s members walked through the doors of Moscow’s main Orthodox Cathedral. They were to perform a stunt that would propel the feminist punk collective from relative obscurity to international fame. 

The stunt itself lasted under a minute as guards quickly evicted the performers from the Church. But later that day Pussy Riot put their ‘punk prayer’ – a criticism of the relationship between Church and state in Russia - on youtube. They picked up 600,000 views… And the attention of the Russian authorities. 

 

Just months later, three members of the anonymous collective, Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, had been named and were charged with ‘hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred’. In August 2012 they were convicted. Demand their release now

 

When the world got interested

 

We’d long since named the women prisoners of conscience – detained for peacefully expressing their views. But it was during the trial that the media storm really hit. In the UK, their case was featured in the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and seemingly every other news outlet in between. Madonna, Sting and Yoko Ono spoke out against the charges, and countless other celebrities bombarded their followers on twitter with incredulity at what was happening in the Russian courtroom. 

 

You wrote thousands of letters to the authorities, raised awareness locally and protested in the streets – sending a strong message to the authorities that the world was watching. You sent Maria, Ekaterina and Nadezhda messages of support, messages that Maria recently said brought her ‘great happiness. Nothing can be better’.

Handing in your signatures at the Russian embassy

The prosecution wanted to put the women behind bars for seven years. In the end Maria, Ekaterina and Nadezhda were each sentenced to two years in prison. A reduction that was in no small part down to you taking a stand, to you standing up for free speech. 

 

In October Ekaterina was given a suspended sentence and released from prison. Maria and Nadezhda remain behind bars, each serving their sentence of two years imprisonment at labour camps. Last month, Maria had an appeal rejected. She was asking to have her sentence postponed until her child reached 14.

 

Life in the labour colonies

 

"The fact that Nadia and Masha are imprisoned even though they have children…is cruelty on purpose, cruelty for propaganda purposes. This is very unpleasant and we need to fight it somehow,” Ekaterina after her release

 

Both women are suffering badly in detention Maria has been put into a punishment block, apparently for her own safety after receiving threats from fellow inmates. Inmates who, in a recent interview with Novaya Gazeta, Maria claims are working for the prison authorities. 

 

Nadezhda, who recently had a spell in hospital after complaining of severe headaches and over work, only has access to a shower once a week and is forced to sew panels into 320 jackets a day. A day that starts at 6am. 

 

With parole hearings for both Maria and Nadezhda on the horizon, the Russian authorities have a chance to right this wrong. On this anniversary, we need you to keep showing them that you will not back down until these women have their freedom. If you do one thing today, please demand their release

 

Where next?

 

Perhaps frustrated by the failure of the Russian system to bring the band members justice, the lawyers defending Maria, Nadezhda and Ekaterina have decided to take their case elsewhere. On 6 February, they filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the convictions against the women violate their rights to free speech, a fair trial, and liberty and security, as well as defying the prohibition of torture. We’ll watch with interest as the case develops, offering support where necessary. In the meantime, continue to call for their freedom

 

Can’t jail inspiration

 

The Russian authorities can lock up Maria and Nadezhda, but they cannot, it seems, stop the wheels set in motion by their brave and defiant protests. Many have been inspired to create art in support of their situation and raise awareness of their case, not least David Shrigley who designed a limited edition t-shirt for us

 

Now, American band Anti-Flag have got in on the action by recording a punk version of our song A Toast to Freedom. The band have been kind enough to donate all proceeds to support our work and you can buy it now on itunes or Amazon Better yet, be one of the lucky ones who gets hold of a limited edition 7”

Whatever you do, please, mark the anniversary of Pussy Riot’s protest by standing up for free speech

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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