Free Pussy Riot's Masha and Nadia - parole hearings this week

Update 26/7/13: In a move that confirms the country's slide towards greater suppression of free speech, Nadia Tolokonnikova has been refused parole due to the fact she has not admitted guilt for 'hooliganism'. Her bandmate Maria Alekhina was also refused parole again earlier this week. Read our response to the ruling

Our SMS action is now closed. Please continue to sign our online petition calling for the women's release

This time last year, we weren’t sweltering through a heatwave. But we were, like now, gearing up for a court appearance to determine the fate of Maria, Ekaterina and Nadia of iconic Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, who were arrested for performing a protest song in a church.  Background: Pussy Riot’s ‘punk prayer’

One year on, two of the women –25 year old Maria Alyokhina (known as ‘Masha’) and 23 year old Nadezha Tolokonnikova ( ‘Nadia’) – remain under lock and key in Russian penal colonies.

At this week’s parole hearings on Wednesday 24th and Friday 26th July, the regional court will decide whether the women will have to serve out the remainder of their two year prison sentences for ‘hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred’. Sentences we believe they shouldn’t have been given in the first place, on the grounds they were simply exercising their right to free speech.

Ahead of these crucial hearings, we’ve joined with hundreds of artists and musicians from Alt-J to U2 in an open letter and new global action calling on the Russian authorities to finally see sense and free Pussy Riot. Free them for the sake of the women themselves, their young families, and for the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which is under serious threat in Russia today.  

'I thank Pussy Riot for standing firmly in their belief for Freedom of Expression, and making all women of the world proud to be women.’
Yoko Ono - see the letter and full list of signatories

Our SMS action is now closed. Please continue to sign our online petition calling for the women's release

Pussy Riot and their ‘punk prayer’

Last summer, Pussy Riot stood trial in Russia on charges of ‘hooliganism on the grounds of religious’ hatred. Their crime? Miming along to an anti-Putin protest song – their ‘Punk Prayer - in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral, wearing their trademark balaclavas and bright dresses.  

Not everyone’s preferred method of making a point, for sure, but certainly no reason to deny them bail during the months before their trial, nor to press charges with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.  

We named the women prisoners of conscience, because we believe they were arrested and detained for peacefully expressing their political views. Along with artists and free speech advocates worldwide, we asked people like you to call for their release. And you responded.

Thousands of you texted, signed petitions, protested in the streets and shared the tale of the injustice meted out to these defiant women who have become an inspiration to so many of us.

Sent to penal colonies

In August 2012, in a move that shocked a world which by now had its eyes firmly fixed on Moscow, the three women were found guilty. However, their sentence of two years in prison was far shorter than the seven years originally demanded by the prosecutor and in no small part due to your campaigning.  

In October, Ekaterina was given a suspended sentence and released from prison. She vowed to continue the fight:

‘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

Maria and Nadia continue to be held in separate penal colonies, where they are both suffering badly. Nadia has reported of overwork, while Maria has been isolated ‘for her own safety’ following threats from fellow prisoners, and arbitrary prison discipline.

However, we know that your support has helped give them strength and hope throughout their ordeal. This is a letter Nadia recently sent to our Moscow office.

'My dear friends!

Thank you for your support! I know, hard times have come, which makes it even more precious to me that you have time, power and will to support us.

'I would like to believe that me and Masha are not sitting in prison in vain, that it helps those who have their eyes and minds open to understand what today’s Russia is like.

'I feel in debt to all those who have ever spoken up in our support. I want you to know: in spite of the fact that the unlawful court decision was implemented, your actions were not useless. Every pronounced word, even if it doesn’t cause immediate change, makes its contribution to the political process. Everything which happens to us becomes meaningful because of your actions. I am infinitely grateful to you for this.' Nadezha Tolokonnikova

Our SMS action is now closed. Please continue to sign our online petition calling for the women's release

What happens to my text?

We will add your name, but not your phone number, to a petition which we'll fax to the Russian authorities before the hearing begins. See the full text of the petition

Not in the UK? We're sorry but our text action won't work for you as SMS short codes are different in each country. You can sign our online petition instead

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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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