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Lawyer: Pussy Riot members may face violence in prison

By Miriam Elder, The Guardian
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 11:42 EDT
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Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (centre), Maria Alyokhina (right) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (left) are seen in court in July. Alyokhina collapsed in court Wednesday during the band's high-profile trial for performing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow church. The group has complained about a lack of food and sleep during the trial. (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)
 
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A lawyer for Pussy Riot has warned that three members of the feminist punk band sentenced to jail last week could face violence and discrimination because of the intense state campaign against them.

“For half a year, state-run television has built up a very negative image of them – that they’re blasphemers, heretics,” said Nikolai Polozov, a member of the women’s defence team. “The only source of information in prisons is state-run TV.

“We have a serious basis to think they can be faced with physical harm, moral pressure and even violence.”

Maria Alyokhina, 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were found guilty last week of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a February performance in Moscow’s official cathedral criticising Vladimir Putin.

Polozov said he would appeal against their sentence – two years in a minimum security prison colony – within two weeks.

Alyokhina has already protested against the band’s treatment. In a letter handed to Polozov from the detention centre in southern Moscow where they have spent the past five months, she described how prison officials and special forces troops had treated them harshly. “I found this strange, usually they’re not so rude with us, so that means they’ve got an order,” she wrote. “I want to believe that all will end well, but everything that’s happening points to it being otherwise.”

Russian opposition activists remain enraged by the sentencing. On Tuesday, hackers attacked the site of the Khamovnichesky court, which hosted the trial against the three women, peppering it with slogans decrying Russia‘s justice system. The hackers also defaced the site’s main page with a video by Azis, a gay Bulgarian singer.

As well as exposing the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, the trial has also shone a spotlight on its increasingly conservative policies, encouraged by the Russian Orthodox church, including repressive anti-gay laws.

The trial has prompted criticism from some of Putin’s closest allies. Yet many government supporters continue to promote the theory that Pussy Riot was part of a western plot to weaken Russia.

“It seems that the planned and well-orchestrated provocation called ‘Pussy Riot’ succeeded,” Vladimir Yakunin, the Kremlin-connected head of Russian Railways and a high-profile supporter of the Orthodox church, wrote this week. The group, he said, was organised in response to growing Orthodox unity.

“As a person, I feel sorry for these young women and it’s unfortunate that our law enforcement system did not find those who directed this performance, financed it and are now trying to get political dividends from it.”

Police are searching for other members of Pussy Riot who they believe were involved in the February performance of an anti-Putin “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

“The necessary search operations are being conducted,” a representative of the Moscow police told the Interfax news agency.

The source did not detail how many people they were looking for.

 
 
 
 
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