Pussy Riot Sentencing a 'Bitter Blow' to Freedom in Russia

Press Release
August 17, 2012

Pussy Riot Sentencing a 'Bitter Blow' to Freedom in Russia

Human Rights Organization Alarmed by Increasing Clampdown on Dissent, Stages Demonstration Outside Russian Embassy in D.C.

Contact: Alex Edwards, aedwards@aiusa.org, 202-675-8761

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International today strongly condemned the verdict and two-year sentence for three members of Pussy Riot, the feminist Russian punk band, saying the ruling represents a "bitter blow" for freedom of expression in the country.

Three members of the group were charged with "hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred" after performing the protest song "Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin," in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in February. Amnesty International considers Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to be "prisoners of conscience" who have been wrongfully prosecuted for what was a legitimate protest action.

"Today's verdict is a travesty," said Michelle Ringuette, chief of campaigns and programs for Amnesty International USA. "The decision to find guilty Maria, Ekaterina and Nadezhda amid global outrage shows that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society."

Amnesty International implores the Russian authorities to overturn the court ruling and release the members of Pussy Riot immediately and unconditionally. In targeting these women, the Russian government issues a clear warning to anyone who dares to criticize the regime.

"From the initial unjustified arrest, to the questionable trial, to this outrageous verdict and sentencing, each step in the case has been an affront to human rights," added Ringuette. "It's a bitter blow to freedom in Russia. Amnesty International will not allow these women to be silenced. They will not be forgotten."

Since Putin assumed office, Russian authorities have increasingly clamped down on freedom of expression, implementing laws that levy exorbitant fines on unsanctioned public meetings, crackdown on dissent and restrict the functioning of NGOs that provide vital public services.

"President Putin took office in May as hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens demanded an open and participatory society," added Ringuette. "Rather than heed their call, Putin has further entrenched his already tight fist on freedom of expression."

The trial, which began on July 30 in Moscow's Khamovnicheskii District Court, concluded in eight days. The judge dismissed most of the defense team's requests to call up witnesses, raising concerns about fair trial standards.

The Pussy Riot case received broad coverage abroad and generated the support of many international artists, including Sting, Madonna, Yoko Ono and Bjork. On Tuesday, Amnesty International delivered more than 70,000 petitions in support of the group to the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., where the organization has held multiple punk rallies, including a demonstration this morning as the verdict was announced.

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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