Russia Implored to Release 'Pussy Riot' Group Following Court Ruling Prolonging Detention

Press Release
July 20, 2012

Russia Implored to Release 'Pussy Riot' Group Following Court Ruling Prolonging Detention

Ruling Comes Amid Increasing Clampdown on Civil Society, NGOs

Human Rights Organization to Hold Solidarity Protest & Concert at Russian Embassy, Friday July 27 in Washington, D.C.

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- A Moscow court has ruled that three members of the female punk group Pussy Riot must remain in custody for six months, prompting Amnesty International to reiterate its call for their immediate release.

The human rights organization considers the activists, who were imprisoned after signing a protest song in Moscow's main Orthodox Church, to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who are accused of "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred," face possible prison sentences of up to seven years. The preliminary hearing of the case will continue next week, on July 23.

"These three activists have now been behind bars for months, awaiting a trial that should not be taking place, " said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director. "Even if the three women did take part in the protest, detention on the serious criminal charge of hooliganism would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful – if, to many, offensive - expression of their political beliefs."

The protest song 'Virgin Mary, Redeem us of Putin' was performed in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on February 21 by several members of Pussy Riot, with their faces covered in balaclavas. The song calls on Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Vladimir Putin, criticizing representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church for their dedicated support shown to Putin. It was one of a number of performances protesting against Vladimir Putin in the run-up to Russia's presidential elections in March.

The Russian authorities subsequently arrested Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova on March 4 and Ekaterina Samusevich on March 15, claiming they were the masked singers. One of the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, admitted to being a member of the larger 'Pussy Riot' group and taking part in the protest, while the other two deny any involvement.

Since its establishment in 2011, the Pussy Riot group has conducted several performances in public places such as the Moscow underground, Red Square and on the roofs of buses. The group members have stated that they protest against stifling of freedom of expression and assembly in Russia, the unfair political process and the fabrication of criminal cases against opposition activists.

"Even if the action was calculated to shock and was known to likely cause offense, it lasted only a few minutes, the activists left the Cathedral when requested to do so and it caused no damage," said Dalhuisen.

The human rights organization renews its call on Russian authorities to drop the charges of hooliganism and immediately and unconditionally release the three women.

In Washington, D.C., Amnesty International will stage a solidarity protest and punk rock concert outside the Russian Embassy on Friday, July 27, from 4:30 - 8 p.m. Activists and supporters will join D.C. punk rock bands in demanding the release of the members of Pussy Riot, and draw attention to the ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression in Russia. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/dcpussyriotprotest or contact the AIUSA media office at 202-509-8194.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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