One Year after Pussy Riot Protest, Russia Continues Attack on Freedom of Expression

Press Release
February 20, 2013

One Year after Pussy Riot Protest, Russia Continues Attack on Freedom of Expression

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

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — A year after the Russian punk band Pussy Riot performed a protest song in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral, the crackdown of freedom of expression has only worsened in Russia as authorities continue to clamp down on human rights, political activists, and non-governmental organizations, said Amnesty International.

Last year's arrest and criminal conviction of Pussy Riot members, Nadezhda "Nadia" Tolokonnikova, Maria "Masha" Alekhina, and Ekaterina "Katya" Samutsevich, under the dubious charge of "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred" signaled a fresh and severe restriction of human rights in the country. Since then, Russia’s Parliament has adopted several new laws targeting activists and those critical of the authorities.

"The persecution of Pussy Riot has become a global symbol of President Putin's shameless intolerance for criticism and determined crackdown on freedom of expression and association," said Michelle Ringuette, Amnesty International USA's chief of campaigns and programs.

Amnesty International members, artists, and other activists are holding vigils and demonstrations around the globe to mark the first anniversary of Pussy Riot's iconic performance and show their solidarity for the band members still imprisoned and other human rights defenders in Russia including an event in Washington, D.C., at 5:00 p.m. in front of the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, February 20.

Fresh attacks on free speech

In June 2012, Russian authorities introduced further restrictive rules on conducting public protests, along with exceptionally high penalties of up to U.S. $32,000. The same month libel – which had only a few months earlier been de-criminalized - made its way back into the Criminal Code, with heftier fines than before.

In November 2012, a new law was introduced which requires NGOs receiving overseas funding to register as 'foreign agents'. This not only puts additional administrative burden on them, but more importantly, may create negative perceptions of their activities due to the negative connotation 'foreign agent' in the Russian language. That month a broad new legal definition of "treason" was also introduced, which could potentially criminalize human rights and political activism.

And in December, Russia's Parliament passed the so-called "Dima Yakovlev" law, imposing further severe restrictions on NGOs and introducing discriminatory measures aimed at persons with dual U.S. and Russian citizenship. Most notably, the legislation prohibits U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.

Harsh punishment for Pussy Riot

While these legislative changes were being rolled out, the Russian authorities tried, convicted, and imposed harsh punishment on three Pussy Riot band members for their protest at Moscow’s cathedral.

In August 2012, following several months of pre-trial detention and unfair court proceedings, the three musicians were sentenced to two years imprisonment in a penal colony for their part in the protest. Samutsevich was later granted conditional release on appeal.

Amnesty International has reported on the conditions in which Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are being held including:

  • Alekhina received threats and had to be placed in solitary confinement. The maximum period she can be held there – three months – is due to expire soon, so the penal colony authorities must look into other options.
  • Tolokonnikova has health conditions which apparently deteriorated while in custody. Even though some medical help is being provided, her health might deteriorate further.

"The fact that Nadia and Masha are imprisoned even though they have children is also a certain kind of intimidation. After that, who would want to engage in [protests] if they have children?" Samutsevich recently told Amnesty International. "This is cruelty on purpose, cruelty for propaganda purposes. This is very unpleasant and we need to fight it somehow."

"The bottom line is that these women have been sentenced for the crime of peaceful political expression," said Ringuette. "They are prisoners of conscience, and Amnesty International calls for Masha and Nadia's unconditional release."

In December 2012, Amnesty International USA released a Pussy Riot World Map. The interactive project allows artists, fans, and the general public to show their support for the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, through messages of solidarity and photos. Musicians and artists who have voiced their support on the map so far include Sting, Roger Waters, Pearl Jam, Flogging Molly, Foster the People, Switchfoot, Fitz and the Tantrums, Milo Greene, Amanda Palmer, Jesse Harris, Escort, Silversun Pickups, State Radio, and My Morning Jacket.

The public is invited to add messages and photographs of solidarity for the two imprisoned Pussy Riot members and/or view the full quotes and photographs of all participating artists at Amnesty International USA's Pussy Riot World Map. For more information, please visit www.amnestyusa.org.

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.