Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison

Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison

After five months spent in detention, and a trial that sparked widespread international protests and demonstrations of support from fellow musicians ranging from Madonna to Paul McCartney to Peaches, all three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison, after being found guilty of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." Not surprisingly, the verdict was not well received: According to the Guardian, shouts of "Shame!" could be heard in the courtroom. Numerous incensed supporters were arrested outside, including Gary Kasparov, World Chess champion and opposition leader, who told reporters that he had been "calmly speaking with journalists" when police suddenly rushed him and threw him into a van where they "brutally beat me." All in all, the trial that has spurred troubling questions about Russia's supposed freedoms continues to do so in its aftermath.

The verdict—which reportedly took some three hours to read—essentially boiled down to this: In staging one of its usual guerilla performances inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where it played a "punk prayer" song denouncing the close relationship between the Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin, Pussy Riot "degraded and insulted" Russia's religious citizens, "inciting religious hatred," thereby violating the Russian constitution. Naturally, it only gets murkier from there, including the judge's assertions that the band members' "jerking of limbs" was "further proof of hatred toward Christians" and that the mere fact that they are feminists—putting them in opposition to the Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations that "do not agree with feminism"—is evidence of a "religious hatred motive" in their performance.

In her eloquent, unapologetic closing statement, Pussy Riot's Yekaterina Samutsevich reiterated that the band had chosen to play in the Cathedral as a reclamation, arguing that it had become little more than "a flashy backdrop" for Putin's security forces—including his former KGB crony Kirill Gundyayev, who now runs Russia's Orthodox Church. Their performance, therefore, was meant to take it back for the people— "to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture and that of protest culture, thus suggesting to smart people that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch and Putin, that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia." It had little to do with attacking religion. In fact, it had everything to do with attempting to rescue it from its current corrupted state.

And yet, Samutsevich and her bandmates seemed to be under no illusion that such a statement would be taken seriously. But she also recognized that they'd already scored a symbolic victory, saying, "On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial." Given the response to their sentencing thus far—including it being denounced by Amnesty International and the U.S. Russian embassy, and even prompting a call for a pardon from the Russian Orthodox Church itself—she's absolutely right. 

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