Russia’s Putin-Kirill regime criticised for sending Pussy Riot to brutal gulag prisons – Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sent to brutal gulag prison camps. The group has bravely revealed Russia’s judicial intimidation, religious hypocrisy and political thuggery.

Nastassia Astrasheuskaya“Their stunt – bursting into Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox Cathedral to urge the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin – infuriated the Church and many Russians. But Kremlin critics said their trial was part of a crackdown on dissent orchestrated by Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May.” — Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

MOSCOW, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Two female members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot convicted of protesting against President Vladimir Putin in a cathedral have been sent to prisons far from Moscow despite requesting to serve out their terms in the capital, a lawyer said on Monday.

Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in August and sentenced to two years in jail, a punishment that many in the West said was too harsh.

Their stunt – bursting into Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox Cathedral to urge the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin – infuriated the Church and many Russians. But Kremlin critics said their trial was part of a crackdown on dissent orchestrated by Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May.

The two women lost their appeals on Oct. 10.

The women’s lawyers said they had tried to argue that they should be allowed to remain in jail in Moscow, saying it would have permitted them to be closer to their small children. They had also cited health and safety concerns at far-flung penal colonies.

“They have been sent away,” one of their lawyers, Mark Feigin, told Reuters, saying he did not know where the women had been dispatched. By law, relatives must be informed once a convict arrives at a prison, but the trip can take days.

One women’s prison is about 100 km (60 miles) from Moscow, but most are much further away.

Former collaborators in a street-art group said on Twitter that Tolokonnikova had been sent to Mordovia, about 500 km (300 miles) east of Moscow, and Alyokhina to the Perm region, near the Ural Mountains about 1,100 km (700 miles) east of the capital. 

Kirill & PutinThe duo had been held in a Moscow detention centre since their arrests in March. Western governments and musicians like Madonna had said their sentences were disproportionate, but Putin voiced support for the sentences, saying the state must protect the feelings of the faithful.

The dominant Russian Orthodox Church [headed by Putin supporter Patriarch Kirill] has cast their protest as part of a concerted attack against the Church and Russian traditions.

A third convicted member of Pussy Riot, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on appeal when a court suspended her sentence after her lawyer argued that she had been pulled away from the cathedral’s altar before the protest song began. – HuffPost, 22 Oct. 2012.

» Nastassia Astrasheuskaya is Reuters correspondent in Moscow. 

Vladimir PutinNegative reactions to the unduly harsh sentences

In response to questions posed by the The Guardian and handed to the band via their lawyer, Pussy Riot has accused Putin and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church of orchestrating the case. The foreign ministries of the United States and of European Union nations called the sentence “disproportionate”.

According to BBC Monitoring, in the European and American press there was “almost universal condemnation” of the two year sentence imposed on the three members of the group. While many newspaper editorials and opinion columns were critical of the performance in the Cathedral, very few thought a 2 year prison sentence was an appropriate punishment, arguing that the action should have been treated as a public order crime and punished by a fine or community service. Some commentators pointed out that excessively harsh prison terms are by no means unknown in western countries. Some press raised concerns that a place of worship is not an appropriate venue for any form of protest, and that their cause cannot morally justify such an action.

Amnesty International called the conviction “a bitter blow for freedom of expression”. Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch, stated that the “charges and verdict… distort both the facts and the law… These women should never have been charged with a hate crime and should be released immediately.”

The press secretary to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said “the promotion of Canadian values, including freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities.” The United States embassy in Moscow tweeted that the sentence “looks disproportionate to the actions,” and the United States State Department asked Russia to “review this case and to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.” President Barack Obama expressed disappointment, and the White House stated “we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system.”

Russian human right activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva stated that in her opinion the judgment was politically motivated, and “not in line with the law, common sense or mercy”. A protest organizer and opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who characterized Pussy Riot act as “idiotic, and there is nothing to argue about”, described the verdict as being “written by Vladimir Putin”, and called it Putin’s “revenge”. Russian fiction writer Boris Akunin attended the protests on the day of the conviction, and said “Putin has doomed himself to another year-and-a-half of international shame and humiliation.” However, Irina Yarovaya, a member of the General Council of Putin’s United Russia party, defended the conviction, stating “they deserved it”.

Lech Wałęsa criticised their performance, saying “I don’t support the punishment, but this was tasteless. The kicking and stuff is too much for the sanctuary. I wouldn’t want censorship, but to make such outrageous acts in a sanctuary is an offense against faith.” Nevertheless he wrote to Vladimir Putin urging him to pardon the women, saying “I must say with all firmness that this form of punishment, by physical harassment and isolation, shouldn’t be used against people who fight with words and promote their views in the society even in such an iconoclastic way.”

On September 13, 2012, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called for their early release, saying that the time they had already served awaiting trial was sufficient punishment, and further incarceration would be “counterproductive”. – Wikipedia