Pussy Riot videos ban is further illustration of Russia's clampdown on free expression

A Russian court’s decision to uphold a ban on videos of Pussy Riot’s protest performance in a Moscow cathedral last year highlights the escalating clampdown on freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International has said in response

Yesterday the Moscow City Court rejected an appeal by band member Ekaterina Samutsevich and upheld the ruling of a lower court in November, banning the videos under vaguely defined counter-extremist legislation.

Amnesty has expressed concern at the court's judgment that the videos contained “images and expressions that were aiming at inciting hatred or enmity and humiliation of persons based on their religion and belonging to social institutions.”

Pussy Riot have repeatedly insisted that their actions were not intended to incite hatred, whether of religion, or of those belonging to certain social groups or other minorities, and Amnesty believes that there are no indications of violence or calls for violence in the videos.

The court judgment seems to be contrary to a 2011 statement by the Russian Supreme Court affirming that criticism of public officials and professional politicians, their actions and beliefs should not be regarded as actions aimed at humiliating or degrading a person or a group, since boundaries for criticism of such persons are wider than those of private individuals.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director David Diaz-Jogeix said:

“The ban on Pussy Riot's videos must be lifted and all such attacks on the internationally-recognised right to freedom of expression must be stopped along with the narrow application of counter-extremist legislation.

“The increasing use of loosely-worded counter-extremist laws to crack down on dissent shows the Russian authorities’ absolute lack of respect for the right to freedom of expression as one of the foundations of a democratic society.”

Samutsevich - together with Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova - was charged with “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred” after the three members of Pussy Riot performed a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral last February. The three were subsequently sentenced to two years imprisonment in a penal colony, but Samutsevich was later given a suspended sentence on appeal.
 

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