Mon, Jul 02, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Petition urges Russia to free punk trio

The Guardian, MOSCOW

A member of the punk-group ‘Pussy Riot’, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, gestures during a hearing at a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on 20 June.

Photo: EPA

Artists and musicians around the world have called for their release. Now, nearly four months after three women were arrested for performing a protest anthem inside Moscow’s most important Orthodox church, Christ the Saviour cathedral, a growing number of Russians are joining calls for their freedom.

Maria Alehina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich — all members of the Pussy Riot punk band — have been in prison since March, held on charges of hooliganism which could eventually mean a seven-year sentence.

Many Muscovites were happy enough to see a tough response to the band’s irreverent act of rebellion, which was aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, but with no trial date set, no signs that they will be released and opposition to Putin spreading, support for the trio has grown, even among those who at first condemned them.

“Their actions insulted me, because I’m religious,” Alexander Ivanov, a popular musician said. “It’s not what they said, it’s where they did it. I was offended — but for them to get seven years in jail for an unsuccessful experiment, that’s going too far … Artists need to have freedom.”

Ivanov is one of more than 100 cultural figures who signed an open letter last week calling on the state to release the women, in an indication that popular unease at their plight is growing.

Nearly 25,000 other supporters have added their names to the letter published on the Web site of the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy.

The domestic groundswell of opinion comes after a concerted international campaign. Beastie Boy Ad-Rock — real name Adam Horowitz — has performed at a Pussy Riot benefit in New York and the US punk band Anti-Flag have released an English-language cover of the controversial Punk Prayer.

Last week Amnesty International again called for the release of the three women, whom they have dubbed prisoners of conscience.

The powerful Orthodox church has continually attacked the band. Last week its spokesman, Vsevolod Chaplin, said that God had told him in a divine revelation that he “condemns what they have done.”

“This sin will be punished in this life and the next,” he said.

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