PUSSY RIOT

On 21st February 2012 at a time when Russia was in the midst of a bitterly fought Presidential election campaign five young women who are members of a group or collective that calls itself Pussy Riot performed what has been called a “punk prayer” in the area near the Altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow.  A film was made of the performance presumably by other members of the group and has been uploaded onto YouTube where it can still be seen.  As was the case with the group’s other performances the five young women were dressed in brightly coloured clothes and balaclavas concealing their faces but with their arms and shoulders bare.  The film of the performance shows that during the performance some of the women kicked their legs into the air in a revealing way.

Most accounts of the performance claim that the “punk prayer” was a prayer to the Virgin Mary “to take Putin away”.  This has however been disputed at the current trial of three of the women involved with suggestions from some of the witnesses that the comments about Putin were added later to the film that has appeared on YouTube.  It is not disputed that the “punk prayer”, accompanied to riotous music and dance, was filled with expletives and profanities and used grossly scatological language.  Nor is it disputed that its last section was an obscene parody of the Christian liturgical hymn the Sanctus, substituting the word “shit” for the word “holy”, or that the “punk prayer” criticised the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, whom it called a “bitch” (Russian suka).

Following the “punk prayer” the young women were escorted from the Cathedral and went into hiding.  On 3rd March 2012 two young women, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were arrested by the Russian authorities and charged with the offence of hooliganism contrary to Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.  On 16th March 2012 a third woman Yekaterina Samutsevitch was also arrested and charged.  The identities and whereabouts of the two other women who participated in the “punk prayer” remain unknown.  The trial of the three women was originally expected to take place in April 2012 but as a result of complicated legal manoeuvres, which I shall discuss in detail, it did not in fact begin until 30th July 2012.

The case has attracted massive publicity both in Russia and internationally.  The women’s cause has been embraced by the leaders of Russia’s protest movement, letters have been written in their support by assorted Russian intellectuals, angry letters have been written to various western newspapers some signed by prominent members of the western pop music establishment such as Jarvis Crocker and Pete Townsend, western pop artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sting have expressed their support during concerts in Russia and Amnesty International has declared the three women prisoners of conscience.

The women’s case has also been taken up enthusiastically by some (though not all) of the western press.  Editorials in their support have appeared in The Times, the Financial Times and the Guardian.  The Guardian published two editorials on its website on successive days accompanied by a seemingly unending stream of articles about the women and their case, which have appeared in quick succession one after the other on the days immediately prior to and following the start of the trial.

Supporters of the women generally interpret the case as a politically motivated prosecution ordered by Putin and the Russian government as part of a crackdown on the protest movement.  The Guardian has referred to their trial as a “show trial”.  Doubts have been expressed about whether a crime was committed at all.  Amnesty International has claimed that the women are being prosecuted “merely for holding a gig in a Church”.  Many others have pointed to the absence of damage to persons or property.

The prosecution has been called disproportionate with the sentence of seven years imprisonment that the women supposedly face described as excessive.  The detention of the women in pre trial custody and the repeated refusal of the Court to grant bail during the five months between the arrest and trial has been called oppressive.  Emphasis has been given to the way this has separated two of the women from their children.  The refusal of the Court to grant applications made by the lawyers of the women is said to prove the Court’s bias whilst the outcome of the trial is said to be a foregone conclusion and the whole trial and legal process has been called a travesty.

The case is also said to show the growing power of the Russian Orthodox Church and its sinister alliance with Putin and the Russian government.  The Church has been criticised for its refusal to forgive the women.  The Patriarch has been criticised for his supposed criticism of members of the Russian Orthodox Church who have called for clemency for the women.  The wording of the indictment setting out the charge with its references to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour as a holy place and to the women’s action as a violation of “ancient Christian sacraments” is said to be inappropriate in a secular state and to show the extent to which the boundary between Church and State in Russia has become blurred.

Every one of these propositions is false or open to serious challenge.  If subjected to careful examination as I propose to do in this article this fact becomes clear.

The Law

 The women are charged for the offence of hooliganism under Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.  This reads as follows:

Hooliganism

 1. Hooliganism, that is a gross violation of the public order manifested in patent contempt of society and attended by the use of weapons or articles used as weapons shall be punishable by compulsory works for a term of 180 to 240 hours, or by corrective labour for a term of one to two years, or by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to five years.

2. The same deed committed by a group of persons in a preliminary conspiracy, or by an organised group, or connected with resistance to a representative of authority to any other person who fulfils the duty of protecting the public order or who suppresses the violation of the public order shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to seven years”.

(Translation Legislationline) (Italics added)

Though the charge against the women is one of hooliganism contrary to Section 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, the offence in this case is aggravated under Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association of the Russian Federation, which prohibits actions that are insulting to the religious feelings of believers especially when these take place “immediately adjacent to objects of religious veneration”.  The relevant sections read as follows:

“Actions hindering the realisation of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of creed, including actions entailing coercion of an individual, calculated insults of the feelings of citizens in connection with their attitudes toward religion, the destruction of property, and threats of such actions, are forbidden and are to be prosecuted by law.  The conducting of public activities and distribution of texts and images insulting the religious feelings of citizens immediately adjacent to objects of religious veneration is forbidden.”

Criminal liability for actions done contrary to Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association of the Russian Federation is provided under Article 26

“Violation of the law of the Russian Federation on freedom of conscience and on  religious associations involves criminal, administrative and other liability in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation”.

(All translations by Kenston Institute) (Italics added)

There is nothing unusual or exceptional about these provisions.  They are fully in line with international practice.  In Britain Section 5(1) of the Public Order Act 1986 makes it a criminal offence for a person to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or to display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting” to another person.  Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 creates a further offence where the “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” was intentional.  Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 creates a further offence where the “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” give rise to a fear of violence.  All these offences are aggravated under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 where the offender “at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so” …”demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership or presumed membership of a racial or religious group or the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group”.  (see also Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) (Italics added).  Penalties for these offences can range from fines to terms of imprisonment ranging from two years up to fourteen years (double that allowed by the Russian law) where there has been damage to property.

There is therefore nothing unusual or oppressive about these Russian laws.  These are public order offences of the sort that exist in all countries.  The Russian laws are more lenient than similar laws concerning public order in many countries.  In France it is a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to one year to sunbathe nude or topless in Paris on the banks of the Seine or to wear a swimming costume in a Paris park even on a hot day.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9444209/Parisians-warned-that-naked-sunbathers-will-be-jailed.html

In Poland merely speaking blasphemous words in public attracts a sentence of up to two years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doda_(singer)#Blasphemy_charges

A major point of criticism has been the possible sentence of seven years, which is said to be disproportionate.  This criticism is part of a tendency to trivialise the offence.  As I shall show the offence is in fact more serious than those who make this criticism perhaps understand.  The criticism is anyway wrong.  As the wording of Article 213 paragraph 2 makes clear the sentence of seven years is the maximum sentence allowed by law for an offence under the Article.   The Russian Court is not obliged to impose it just as a British Court is not in all cases obliged to impose the maximum fourteen year sentence for offences committed under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 where there has been property damage.  The latest information from the trial is that the prosecution has asked for a sentence of three years rather than seven.

The Defendants

According to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the three defendants in the case, Pussy Riot was established in October 2011.  It describes itself as a collective or group.  Membership is fluid and according to different accounts may be ten, thirteen or fifteen members.  Tolokonnikova and western and some Russian commentary have described Pussy Riot as a “feminist punk collective” or “feminist punk band”.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/free_pussy_riot_a_statement_by_nadya_tolokonnikova

In an interview apparently given before the “punk prayer” members of Pussy Riot also described themselves as “punk band” and claimed inspiration from western groups like Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69, Era and The 4-Skins and especially the American rock band Bikini Kill and the American Riot grrl movement of the 1990s.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

As with everything else about this case the reality is a great deal more complicated.

Any discussion of Pussy Riot must address the group’s connection to the performance art group or collective known as Voina (“War”), which has been in existence since at least 2008.  A statement has appeared on the internet (since deleted), which denies that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was ever a member of Voina and which accuses her of trying to take Voina over.  In their interview members of Pussy Riot have also given the impression that they are distinct from Voina though they strongly endorse what they say was Voina’s earlier “more radical” phase.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

Tolokonnikova is however either married to or in a relationship with one of the leading members of Voina and has been active in several of Voina’s activities.  So has Maria Alyokhina, one of the other two women defendants in the Pussy Riot case.  The overlap between the two groups is so great that I feel justified in treating the two groups as in essence one and the same.

Since its formation in presumably 2008 Voina has staged in public a succession of extreme actions described as performance art.  These have included the painting of a male phallus on a St. Petersburg Bridge, the staging of a public orgy at the Timiryazev Museum in Moscow involving nudity and (apparently) full penetrative sex (Tolokonnikova was a participant though heavily pregnant), the throwing of live cats at the staff of a McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow, the overturning of police cars apparently on one occasion with a policeman inside, the firebombing of property with petrol bombs, the staged hanging of an immigrant and a homosexual in a supermarket, the projection of a skull and crossbones onto the building housing the Russian government, the spilling of large live cockroaches onto the stomach of a pregnant member of the group (Tolokonnikova again) and the theft of a frozen chicken from a supermarket, which was stuffed up the vagina of one of the women members (apparently Maria Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova apparently was also present). The group routinely films or photographs its activities, which it uploads onto the internet. I attach links, which come with a strong health warning.

http://plucer.livejournal.com/266853.html#comments

http://plucer.livejournal.com/55710.html

http://nataly-lenskaya.livejournal.com/348825.html

http://blog.kp.ru/users/markusan/post226185220/

Since its formation in September or October 2011 Pussy Riot has for its part staged impromptu performances in the metro, on the roof of a trolley bus, on the roof of a detention centre, in clothing stores, during a fashion show and in Red Square.  All these performances, even those taking place outdoors during the Russian winter, have been undertaken with the group wearing its trademark balaclavas and skimpy bright dresses.  None of the performances were announced in advance or were agreed with the organisers or owners of the events or venues where they were held.

http://english.ruvr.ru/photoalbum/83508901/83508904/

Tolokonnikova has recently said that Pussy Riot has never intended to show disrespect to any viewers or witnesses of its performances.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/free_pussy_riot_a_statement_by_nadya_tolokonnikova

However all the performances to date including the one in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour have used strong and profane language, which have included swear words and obscenities.

In an editorial that appeared on 29th July 2012 in the Observer and on the Guardian’s website reference was made to the “lightness and gaiety” of the group “who dress in bright colours and tights and mocking balaclavas” and “whose protest is not made of slogans and placards but is crafted from art, dance and performance”. In the light of the activities in which they have been involved it is unlikely the members of either Pussy Riot or Voina (to which Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina at least also belong or have belonged) would recognise themselves in this description.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/29/observer-editorial-russia-putin-pussy-riot

The common feature in all of these actions whether of Voina or of Pussy Riot is illegality.  In their interview Pussy Riot has openly admitted that all its actions have been illegal and that illegality is an essential part of their actions.  That some of the illegal activities engaged in both by Voina and Pussy Riot involve committing criminal offences is not disputed.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

Moreover there appears to be a trend towards escalation with instances of criminal damage (the overturning of the police car and the cases of firebombing), violent assault (against the policeman in the overturned police car and the staff at the McDonalds restaurant) and animal cruelty (against the cats thrown at the staff in the restaurant).  In relation to the incident involving the cats I wonder whether some of the supporters of Pussy Riot in Britain and America such as Sting, Pete Townsend and Jarvis Crocker would feel quite the same way about the group if they knew about it.

The other feature of many of these actions is their grossly sexual and obscene nature.  Indeed sexual obscenity seems to be an obsession.  Both Voina and Pussy Riot have openly admitted to using sexual obscenity as a weapon (indeed obscenity is part of Pussy Riot’s name)

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

http://en.free-voina.org/

What tends to be overlooked in the mass of commentary about Voina and Pussy Riot is that their actions take place in public places within the possible sight or hearing of children.  This was true of the phallus painted on the bridge, the orgy in the museum and the theft of the frozen chicken in the supermarket.  Film of the last event shows a young child present though he may have been brought there by one of the group’s members.  Pussy Riot’s performances also frequently take place in public spaces such as the metro, supermarkets, clothing stores, on top of a trolley bus and in Red Square.  The coarse and profane language Pussy Riot always use could therefore also have been heard by children and given the busy nature of some of these places surely was.  Again I wonder whether some of Pussy Riot’s western supporters are aware of this or would feel quite the same way about Pussy Riot if they knew about it.

By contrast some of the claims made about Pussy Riot by their supporters are actually surprisingly difficult to verify.

Pussy Riot has been called and calls itself a punk band.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

The turn to musical performance is however actually a very late development beginning only at the end of September or the beginning of October 2011.

Whatever else Pussy Riot is its members are not conventional entertainers.  The group has a fluid membership, has apparently never released a song and does not appear to have a song catalogue.  Songs appear to be made up or adapted for each performance which take place without public announcement. Prior to the action in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour none of the group’s performances took place in pre booked venues and I know of none that have since.  Needless to say tickets were not sold prior to each performance.

Despite claims by its members and its supporters, though the group has made feminist statements there does not seem to be much that is feminist about the performances themselves.  The sexual actions performed in public by Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina and endorsed by Pussy Riot in their interview do not represent conventional feminism. Tolokonnikova has released a manifesto that makes various feminist criticisms of the Russian Orthodox Church and of the Patriarch but the criticisms are ideological and theoretical as are the feminist comments made by Pussy Riot in their interview.  Neither Tolokonnikova nor Pussy Riot as a whole have shown any interest in the many practical issues Russian women face in their everyday lives ranging from domestic violence to gender stereotyping in the statements they have released which I have read and nor do I see anything remotely feminist in any of their performances.

http://freepussyriot.org/content/manifesto-n-tolokonnikova-05042012

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

Pussy Riot is often described as an anti Putin protest group.  The editorial in the Observer and the Guardian’s website of 29th July 2012 sees Pussy Riot as mounting a “…challenge to Putin – the most overtly macho leader in world politics”, a comment which I find comes close to discovering Pussy Riot’s feminism purely in the group’s opposition to Putin.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/29/observer-editorial-russia-putin-pussy-riot.

There is no doubt of the group’s extreme hostility to Putin or that the group engages in political protest and that Putin is the focus of this protest.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

However focusing on Pussy Riot’s hostility to Putin overlooks the extent to which both Pussy Riot and Voina target not just Putin but authority generally and also private property.  Voina’s targets have included the police (on numerous occasions as shown by the overturning of the police cars), Medvedev (the orgy at the museum specifically endorsed by Pussy Riot in their interview was held under the slogan “Fuck the heir, huggy bear” – a play on Medvedev’s name, (“medved” being bear in Russian)), McDonald’s (the incident involving the cats) and supermarkets (the theft of the frozen chicken).  Pussy Riot has targeted supermarkets, clothing stores, a fashion show and (as we shall see) the Church and its Patriarch.  Pussy Riot’s hostility to the police is also very obvious in their interview.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

Members of Voina and Pussy Riot have at various times sought to explain their ideology though not always in a fully consistent way.  In May 2012 following her arrest Tolokonnikova published a manifesto which with its references to Feuerbach and Marx appears to confirm her as an atheist and ultra leftist.

http://freepussyriot.org/content/manifesto-n-tolokonnikova-05042012

As for Voina, comments by its members and references in the group’s literature to earlier generations of Russian revolutionaries and intellectuals such as Chernyshevsky, Tolstoy, the Decembrists and Malevich, as well as claims that members of Voina live without money and the general thrust of Voina’s actions also seem to identify the group with the extreme Left.  The following link provides access to articles written by members of Voina in which they try to explain their ideas.  The first article, which refers to an event in Poland, seems to connect the group to the world of international anarchism.

http://en.free-voina.org/

The explanations given by Voina for its actions in these articles including its bizarre sexual displays and the violence and illegality of its actions appear to place Voina squarely (though perhaps unknowingly) within the anarchist traditions of “Illegalism” and of “The Propaganda of the Deed”.  “Illegalism” involves the deliberate embrace by an anarchist of a criminal lifestyle.  “The Propaganda of the Deed” involves taking (often violent) action as a means to awaken political consciousness.  For those interested in learning more about these doctrines here are links to the relevant Wikipedia articles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegalism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_of_the_deed

Whilst Pussy Riot has never given such a detailed explanation of its actions its members have also admitted the illegal nature of their actions and also appear to speak of these actions in a way that suggests that they are intended to awaken political consciousness.  They also specifically endorse what they say was the “more radical” phase of Voina’s activities.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

The extent to which either group really has a coherent ideology or follows a coherent course of political action is open to question.  What is surely not open to question in the light of what both groups say about themselves is that their members are not simple artists or punk rockers.  Possibly punk was adopted in September or October 2011 because of punk’s former associations in Britain where it originated with political anarchism as for example in the case of the British punk rock group the Sex Pistols of the 1970s.  However even the Sex Pistols were first and foremost professional artists and entertainers in a way that the members of Pussy Riot are not.

It follows that Pussy Riot is not merely an anti Putin protest group even if it was indeed set up as its members say in reaction to Putin’s declaration on 26th September 2011 that he intended to seek re election for the Presidency.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

A fairer description would be that Pussy Riot or at least its core members are militant political activists with ultra Leftist and possibly anarchist views who immediately following Putin’s announcement of his decision to seek re election turned to punk as a vehicle for political protest.  In so far as Putin is a special focus of hostility it is because he happens at present to be the leader of the Russian state.  Based on the group’s previous actions and things its members have said if Putin were replaced by someone else that person would become the next target.

The Offence

The “punk prayer” has been described as a political protest song provoked by the decision of the Patriarch to support Putin’s election to the Presidency.  As well as calling the Patriarch a “bitch”(suka) it apparently accused him of believing in Putin rather than God.  The editorial that appeared in the Observer and on the Guardian’s website on 29th July 2012 referred to the “punk prayer” as “a religious hymn laced with an anti-Putin lyric” and this has been the line taken by most of the western media, by parts of the Russian opposition, by Amnesty International and following the start of the trial by the women themselves.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/free_pussy_riot_a_statement_by_nadya_tolokonnikova

At this point it needs to be said clearly that the Patriarch was acting entirely within his rights to give Putin his support.  There is no democratic, constitutional or legal principle that prohibits a religious leader from taking a stand on a political matter.  The Catholic Church in post war Europe set up Christian Democrat parties and in Italy and elsewhere regularly and openly campaigned for their election.  In Poland and Ireland the Catholic Church still has an active political role.  In the United States religious leaders openly campaign on political questions, support particular candidates in elections (including Presidential elections) and are regular visitors to the White House.  In Britain the Church of England used to be known as “the Tory party at prayer”.  Though this is no longer the case British clergymen have taken stands on issues ranging from nuclear disarmament, apartheid, the 1984 miners’ strike, the war in Iraq and the Occupy Movement.

Critics who find something outrageous about the Patriarch’s support for Putin should ask themselves whether they would feel similarly outraged if instead of supporting Putin the Patriarch had opposed him.  If the answer is no (as I suspect is the case in the overwhelming majority of cases) then the validity of the criticism of the Patriarch for his support for Putin disappears.

Supporters of the women claim that they are being prosecuted for undertaking a political protest.  The editorial that appeared in the Observer and on the Guardian’s website on 29th July 2012 casually condemns the trial as a “show trial” (a particularly inflammatory comment given the history of show trials in Russia during the Stalinist era).  This of course  implies that there is no substance to the case and that the women are simply being tried for voicing criticism of Putin.  The claim that the women are being prosecuted simply for exercising their right of free speech and of political protest and for criticising Putin also forms the basis of Amnesty International’s decision to give the women “prisoner of conscience” status.

http://www2.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/sms-action-network/pussy-riot?utm_source=aiuk&utm_medium=Homepage&utm_campaign=IAR&utm_content=pussyriot_main

Before dealing with the substance of this allegation I feel I must point out that it faces what appears to me to be an insuperable difficulty, which is that it appears that all of Pussy Riot’s protest songs and actions to date have apparently involved bitter criticism of Putin.  None of these actions before the “punk prayer” provoked the sort of charges that are now being made in connection with the “punk prayer”.  If the women from Pussy Riot are being prosecuted merely because the “punk prayer” was a protest against Putin then it is difficult to understand why this should be so and why the women and the other members of the group were not prosecuted following their earlier protests.

As any reader of the Russian press knows the reality is that the Russian press and internet are densely crowded with criticisms of Putin.  Many of these are extremely abusive.  None has ever provoked charges of the sort now made against the women.

Following the parliamentary elections of December 2011 Russia experienced a flurry of political protests which attracted massive international attention.  The common theme of these protests was extreme hostility to Putin.  No participant in these protests has faced the sort of charges the women face.

Given that this is so attempts to argue that the women are simply being prosecuted for voicing criticisms of Putin seem to me unsustainable.  All that such claims do is draw attention away from the crime of which the women actually are accused.

In an earlier article on Amnesty International’s website (which has now been deleted) the women’s action is defended as an exercise of the right of free speech with reference made to the famous words of the European Court of Human Rights in its Judgment in the case of Handyside v. United Kingdom (5493/72 paragraph 49) that

“…Freedom of expression…is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population”.

This shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the right of free speech and of the Judgment in the case of Handyside v United Kingdom. 

The right of free speech is set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads:

“1. Everyone has the right of freedom of expression.  The right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.  The article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

(Italics added)

The right of free speech is not unlimited.  States can and do impose restrictions on the exercise of this right.  They are actually required to do so if this is “necessary in a democratic society”.

The Judgment in the case of Handyside v. United Kingdom explained that unless the restrictions were “necessary in a democratic society”, that is unless they were made “…in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary” they could be illegal however shocking or upsetting any words or actions they sought to prohibit might be.  This however was simply intended as a clarification explaining that the prohibition of words or actions by a state would not be legal if it was not “necessary in a democratic society”.  What is always overlooked in discussions of the Judgment in Handyside v. United Kingdom is that in that case the European Court of Human Rights decided that the restrictions imposed by the United Kingdom (to suppress a sexually explicit book directed at teenagers) were intended to protect “health or morals” and were “necessary in a democratic society” and therefore legal.

The provisions in Articles 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association under which the women are being charged are fully in line with international practice.  To the extent that they are intended to prevent “disorder or crime” and to protect “health or morals” they are clearly “necessary in a democratic society”.  If the law in these Articles is applied correctly there is no reason to see in the Pussy Riot case an attack on free speech.  To argue that it does before the Court has even delivered its Judgment cannot be justified on legal or ethical grounds and is simply wrong.

Critics of the prosecution and the women themselves now claim the “punk prayer” as a protest against Putin was not intended to offend the feelings of Russian Orthodox believers.

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/free_pussy_riot_a_statement_by_nadya_tolokonnikova

This claims tends to overlook the fact that this would still not excuse or justify the “punk prayer” if it did in fact offend the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians.

This has been a major issue at the trial.  The prosecution has produced a string of Russian Orthodox Christian witnesses who have testified to the fact that the “punk prayer” did offend their feelings.  Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation as interpreted by Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association makes it quite clear that a crime is committed regardless of whether an intention to offend the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians exists or not though the crime would obviously be more serious if the offence caused was intentional.  The evidence of their injured feelings the Russian Orthodox Christian witnesses have given at the trial is therefore fully relevant in the case.  The Russian Orthodox Christian witnesses do not deserve the sarcasm and ridicule to which they have been subjected by the defence and by some of the women’s supporters in the Russian and international press.

The “punk prayer” was an obscene parody of the act of Christian worship carried out using excremental language in Russian Orthodoxy’s most important Church in an area just before the sanctuary which contains the Altar access to which is prohibited to all except members of the priesthood. The “punk prayer” contained abuse of the Patriarch, the leader of the Russian Church, calling him a “bitch” (suka) and accusing him of believing in Putin rather than God.  The “punk prayer” was carefully planned, the location having obviously been chosen in advance for maximum effect and the form of the “punk prayer” adapted to mimic the order of the Christian service starting with the making of the sign of the cross followed by an obscene prayer to the Virgin (the Theotokos) and ending with a scatological parody of the Sanctus.  The “punk prayer” was performed by three young women dressed in skimpy and brightly coloured clothing with bare arms the wearing of which is prohibited in a Russian Orthodox Christian Church and was accompanied by dance and music of a sort also prohibited in a Russian Orthodox Christian Church.  The “punk prayer” used offensive and coarse language of a sort that is also prohibited in a Russian Orthodox Church and which Russian Orthodox Christians would be expected to find grossly disrespectful in a house of God.  The whole performance was filmed presumably by other members of the group and the film possibly with words added was then uploaded onto YouTube.

I do not want to pre judge the outcome of the trial but I have to say that it seems to me that any attempt to argue that the action did not and was not intended to cause offence to Russian Orthodox Christians is going to face severe difficulties.  Tolokonnikova has not made matters easier for herself or for the other women by publishing in May her manifesto which levels further criticisms of the Patriarch (whom it accuses of having been a KGB agent) and of the Church hierarchy generally and which by its various references to Marx and Feuerbach makes fairly clear her own atheistic beliefs.

http://freepussyriot.org/content/manifesto-n-tolokonnikova-05042012

Moreover there is no doubt that the persons involved in the “punk prayer” were aware that they were committing an illegal act.  The five women were disguised concealing their identities by wearing balaclavas and immediately went into hiding following the action.  Illegality is anyway as we have seen an essential element of their activities.

For what it’s worth my opinion is that the holding of the “punk prayer” in an area of the Church close to the Altar looks like it was deliberately done to flout the provisions of Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association, which prohibits such activities near to objects of religious veneration.

Any discussion of the potential offence caused to Russian Orthodox Christians also needs to take into account the historical background.  The action took place in a country where within recent memory the Russian Orthodox Church was subjected to fierce persecution, where Churches were desecrated and destroyed and priests murdered and imprisoned by the thousand, where Christian symbols and relics were destroyed and where there was systematic discrimination against religious believers who were denied access to senior positions in the country’s government or bodies of power.  The action took place in a Cathedral that was demolished in 1931 by the Soviet government over the course of the same persecution and whose reconstruction was authorised by the Soviet government in 1990 (the last year of its existence) as an act of national repentance and reconciliation.  The funds for the rebuilding of the Cathedral came from private donations provided by millions of Russian Orthodox Christians who made these donations at a time of severe economic crisis when many of them would have been experiencing great personal hardship.

To suppose in the light of this history that an action like the “punk prayer” in the very same Cathedral would not cause alarm and offence to Russian Orthodox Christians seems to me incredible to say the least.

British commentary about the case has shown an extraordinary insensitivity to this question of the offence caused to the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians by the “punk prayer” and to the historical background.    Much British commentary about the case (for example that appearing on the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website) seems to be informed by the anti clerical and even anti Christian and anti religious “secularist” bias currently fashionable in some sections of British society.  Such comments are doubly misinformed in that they make cultural assumptions that simply do not apply to a case in a country with a completely different history and ignore the extent to which the “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow would provoke similar charges were it to happen in Britain under the provisions of Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Sections 28 and 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which I discussed above.

Article 213 paragraph 1 defines hooliganism as “gross violation of the public order manifested in patent contempt of society”.  Again without wishing to pre judge the outcome of the case I personally find it difficult to see that the “punk prayer” was anything else.  Article 213 paragraph 1 refers to the action being “attended by the use of weapons or articles used as weapons”. I am not familiar with Russian case law or legal practice so I do not know whether the use of weapons or “articles used as weapons” is an essential element of the offence of hooliganism set out in Article 213.  The wording of Article 213 seems to imply that it is though there is also the possibility of faulty translation.  Whether guitars and acoustic equipment of the sort used by the women during the “punk prayer” might be considered “articles used as weapons” again I do not know.  These seem to me valid points that ought to be part of the defence in a properly conducted trial.  I do not know whether the defence has in fact made these points.

Nor does there seem to me to be an arguable defence to the elements of the offence set out in Article 213 paragraph 2.  There is no doubt that the offence was planned “in a preliminary conspiracy” and was carried out by “an organised group”.  The women were escorted from the Cathedral by the Cathedral guards who would certainly be “representatives of authority” or “persons fulfilling the duty of protecting the public order” or “of suppressing the violation of the public order”.  I do not know if the women offered any resistance.  This also could be a legitimate area of dispute between the prosecution and the defence in a properly conducted trial.

As for Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religious and Religious Association, as I have said the performance of the “punk prayer” in an area immediately in front of the sanctuary that contains the Altar seems to me to have been specifically intended to flout the wording of the Article.  Whether that was the intention or not that surely was the effect.

Comparisons that have been made in Britain with the prosecution in 1969 of members of the Rolling Stones on charges of cannabis possession, which provoked the famous Times editorial about “not breaking a butterfly on a wheel”, are obviously wrong.  Quite apart from whether in the light of the group’s activities it is appropriate to describe Pussy Riot as harmless “butterflies”, there is simply no comparison between a prosecution brought over the possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use and the grossly provocative act performed by Pussy Riot in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on 21st February 2012.

As for the claim by Amnesty International that the women are being prosecuted simply “for performing a gig in a Church”, that is not merely wrong but is actually absurd.

http://www2.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/sms-action-network/pussy-riot?utm_source=aiuk&utm_medium=Homepage&utm_campaign=IAR&utm_content=pussy_sms_nib

The Conduct of the Case

Since Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were both arrested on 3rd March 2012 the conduct of the case by the prosecution and the Court has come in for severe criticism both in Russia and in the west.

The focus of much of the criticism has been the Court’s refusal to grant the women bail before the trial.  Much has been made of the fact that both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are women with young children.  The refusal of the Court to grant bail is said to be unreasonable and to have separated the children from their mothers.  It has also been said that the decision to keep the women in detention is disproportionate to the crime committed.

In my opinion there was no chance the Court would grant bail and the Court was right to refuse it.  Immediately following the “punk prayer” the women went into hiding.  During the “punk prayer” they disguised themselves with balaclavas so as to conceal their identities.  Two of the women involved have to this day never been identified and remain in hiding.  Following their arrest Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina initially denied they were members of Pussy Riot and went briefly on a hunger strike.   Tolokonnikova only admitted that she had been one of the women who had participated in the “punk prayer” at the pre trial hearing on 20th June 2012.  Alyokhina and Samutsevitch continued to insist that the charges against them had no basis.  The final admission that all three women were members of Pussy Riot and had taken part in the “punk prayer” only came at the start of the trial.

Pussy Riot has explained the practice of wearing balaclavas during performances in an interview Amnesty International has published on its website

“…..Pussy Riot has to keep expanding.  That’s one of the reasons we choose to always wear balaclavas – new members can join the bunch and it really does not matter who takes part in the next act – there can be three of us or eight of us, like in our last gig on the Red Square, or even fifteen, Pussy Riot is a pulsating and growing body”.

http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot

Members of Pussy Riot therefore keep their identities secret even from each other, a fact admitted by Tolokonnikova during the trial where she said that she only knew the two other women who had taken part in the “punk prayer” and who are still in hiding by their nicknames.

Given statements such as this and given that hooliganism is a crime which carries a possible sentence of imprisonment, that the charge was made against women who concealed their identities, went into hiding, refused to cooperate with the police, the prosecution or the Court and who are members of a group which habitually carries out illegal acts (including in the case of the two women who are known to be or to have been members of Voina acts of violence against the police) it was simply impossible for the Court to grant bail.  The prosecution was surely right to claim that if released on bail the women might go back into hiding and might commit further criminal acts.  The Court may also have been concerned that if released the women might flee abroad or escape to a foreign embassy and claim political asylum.  Amnesty International has awarded the women “prisoner of conscience” status and an article by the Russian opposition journalist Konstantin von Eggert says that he has been told by a Danish diplomat that a grant of political asylum would be “automatic” if they were to escape abroad.

http://en.rian.ru/columnists/20120803/174952417.html

Much Russian and international criticism of the case has focused on the delay in bringing the case to trial.  This overlooks the fact that the major fault for the delay in bringing the case to trial lies with the defence.

Following their arrest Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina denied they were members of Pussy Riot and went on hunger strike.  They and Samutsevich then refused to admit they were present in the Cathedral when the “punk prayer” took place.  They persisted in this refusal until Tolokonnikova’s admission at the pre trial hearing on 20th June 2012.  Only at the start of the trial on 30th July 2012 did all the three women finally admit their membership of Pussy Riot and their participation in the “punk prayer”.

In the meantime the defence throughout the pre trial period failed to provide a clear statement of its case.  Instead it made repeated applications for bail, which were bound to fail, sought repeated adjournments because of its inability to prepare its case and made repeated and hopeless applications for the calling of witnesses such as Putin and the Patriarch who have no direct connection to the events in the Cathedral on 21st February 2012.

The attempts to call Putin and the Patriarch as witnesses were part of the defence’s attempt to expose the prosecution against the women as politically motivated.  These attempts  face the insurmountable difficulty that there is no evidence to support them.  In the absence of such evidence there are no grounds to call Putin or the Patriarch as witnesses.  Neither Putin nor the Patriarch were present in the Cathedral when the “punk prayer” took place.  Neither Putin nor the Patriarch were therefore in any sense witnesses to the “punk prayer”.  No evidence has ever been produced that either Putin or the Patriarch ordered the prosecution.  Reference has been made to a comment by Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov shortly after the “punk prayer” that Putin was “disgusted” by the “punk prayer” whilst the Patriarch has been criticised for his comments that the “punk prayer” was “blasphemous” and for his supposed criticisms of Russian Orthodox Christians who have called on the Russian Orthodox Church to forgive the women.  These statements are merely statements of opinion.  In no sense can they be considered orders to the prosecution to bring the case.

The wording of the indictment or charge sheet against the women with its references to the “punk prayer” as intended “to devalue church traditions and dogmas”, “to diminish the creed of believers”, “to show (the women’s) hatred of Christianity” and “to encroach upon the singularity of religion” has been said to show an unhealthy attachment between Church and State with the implication that it also shows that the Patriarch and the Russian Orthodox Church are somehow behind the prosecution.  See for example the following comments about the indictment in the Russian liberal news website Gazeta.ru                                

http://en.gazeta.ru/news/2012/07/19/a_4686637.shtml

In my opinion the criticisms of Putin and of the Patriarch and of the wording of the indictment betray a simple inability to face the fact that a crime was indisputably committed. There may be legitimate doubts about the seriousness of the crime and there may be possible lines of defence some of which (and some of the problems of which) I have touched on.   That a crime was however committed there is surely no doubt.  Given that a crime was committed the Russian police and judiciary were under a duty to investigate and prosecute it as would the police and judiciary in any other country if such a crime were committed there.  Since the Russian police and judiciary were under duty to investigate and prosecute the crime there is no reason to look for an order from either Putin or the Patriarch to explain the prosecution.  Since a crime is a State and police matter any statement of forgiveness by the Patriarch cannot affect it and cannot and should not prevent its investigation and prosecution.  The demand that the Patriarch “forgive” the three women and that he is acting contrary to Christian doctrine by not doing so is therefore completely beside the point.

It also betrays a fundamental ignorance of Christian theology.  As Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church, has carefully explained, without confession and repentance, of which at present there is no sign, there can be no forgiveness.

http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20120725/174760458.html

As for the wording of the indictment I have not seen the full document, which is apparently very long.  Such of it as I have seen seems to me be nothing more than the usual attempt of such documents in stilted legal language to set out the nature of the crime alleged.  This is an offence under Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and of Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association.  There are points in the indictment to which the defence can legitimately take issue (such as whether the injury to the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians were intentional) but given the nature of the “punk prayer”, which I discussed above, I do not see based on what I have seen of the indictment that it is inappropriate or wrongly set out.

The chaotic conduct of the case by the defence has spilled over into the trial itself.  It seems the trial only took place when it did because the Court and the prosecution finally lost patience with the defence’s refusal to set out its case and simply fixed the date for the trial.  This appears to have had the desired effect since on the first day of the trial the three women clarified their position by finally making a full admission both of their membership of Pussy Riot and of their participation in the “punk prayer”.  They however denied any intention to offend the feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians and said they were sorry if any such offence was caused.  They justified the “punk prayer” as a protest against Putin and admitted that an offence had been committed but said that this was one which should be punished by administrative penalties and not by imprisonment.  On that basis they pleaded not guilty to the charge of hooliganism.

Had this stance been taken at the outset of the case the case would surely by now have ended.  I cannot see why an agreement could not have been reached whereby the three women pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and made a full apology to the Russian Orthodox Church in return for a more lenient sentence.  Given the nature of what was done it is perhaps unlikely that the women would have escaped without a prison sentence but the Russian authorities have shown remarkable forbearance in the face of Pussy Riot’s and Voina’s previous activities (greater one suspects than would have been the case in most western countries) and it is surely likely that any prison term that was agreed would have been short in which case given that the women  have already been in prison for five months it is likely that they would by now be free.

I would offer for the purpose of comparison the example of the Polish pop singer Dorota Rabczewska (“Doda”).  Unlike Pussy Riot, Doda is a professional and indeed massively popular artist and entertainer.  She also happens to be one who has in my opinion shown a much more sustained and practical interest in feminist questions than have Pussy Riot.  Thus in the video of Kolejny raz she addressed the problems of young women forced into prostitution.  In the video of Katharsis she dealt with the problem of domestic violence.  In the video of Nie daj sie she dealt with the questions of gender stereotyping and sexual harassment.  Nor has Doda been afraid to challenge Poland’s powerful Catholic Church.  In the video of Kolejny raz she acts the part of a prostitute who is murdered by a serial killer who is a practising Catholic and who makes the sign of the cross over her grave whilst one interpretation of the lyrics of Nie daj sie is that they deny the existence of God.  

In May 2010 Doda was charged under Poland’s blasphemy laws for saying in a television interview that she had more belief in dinosaurs than the Bible because the Bible “was written by potheads and drunks”.  The offence carries in Poland a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.  In contrast to Pussy Riot Doda made no attempt to politicise her case or to ignore or evade the charges brought against her.  She immediately offered a full apology and at the beginning of this year quietly settled the case by paying a $1,450 fine.  Unlike Pussy Riot and their supporters she made no attempt to mobilise international opinion behind her.  Nor did her case become a cause celebre in Poland.

Pussy Riot’s offence is by any measure far more serious than Doda’s.  However had the same sensible approach been taken it should surely have been possible to resolve the case in a way that drew a line under the whole affair.  Unfortunately not only has Pussy Riot’s defence failed to take this sensible approach but it has instead persisted with the same self destructive tactics in the trial that it adopted at the start of the case and in the pre trial hearings.

Reports of the trial describe a theatre of the absurd.  Six attempts were made over the course of five days (one by the prosecution, five by the defence) to force the judge to resign on various grounds including bias.  There has been harassment and mockery of prosecution witnesses and demands for the calling as defence witnesses of persons such as the well known Russian opposition leader and blogger Aleksei Navalny who have no conceivable connection to the case.  There has been open texting and tweeting of messages on mobile phones in the Court room whilst proceedings are underway.  Ambulances and doctors have been called following claims that the women were ill or were being mistreated or were even being tortured, which claims were proved when the doctors came to be untrue.  The hearing has also been interrupted by bomb threats and protests and there have been constant and unjustified demands from the defence for further adjournments.

At no point does there seem to have been the slightest genuine recognition on the part of the defence that a crime was committed or that the best interests of the women would be served by an honest recognition of this fact and by an attempt to cooperate with the prosecution and the Court to find a solution that best serves the women’s interests.  The entire defence strategy seems to have been to try to discredit the Court on the assumption that the prosecution is political and the trial a show trial.   Any defence strategy that rests entirely on an assumption, which is unsupported by evidence, is going to fail and I expect that to be the case in this case.

I should also say that I think it is inconceivable that tactics of the sort used by the defence in this case would be tolerated in the courts of any western country.  If such attempts were made I am sure they would result in orders by the Court sacking the defence’s lawyers and in charges for contempt of court.

The likely result of this defence strategy is that it can only have increased the prospects for a lengthy prison sentence.  If this is the outcome then the blame lies squarely with the defence.  One has to wonder about the motives of a defence conducted in this self destructive way.  If as seems likely its purpose is to score political points against the Russian government (and the defence lawyers seem to be committed members of the Russian opposition) then the interests of the three women have been sacrificed to that objective.  As militant political activists perhaps the women understand and support this.  If they do not then one has to deplore the cynicism of what has been done.

Summary

 As long term readers of this blog will be aware, I have been concerned for some time with the misreporting and interference in the west with Russian cases.  The Pussy Riot case is another example.  There is in fact no great legal or political issue or principle involved in this case.  Every society has to face occasional challenges to public order and that is all ultimately that the Pussy Riot case is about.  It is not the malevolent prosecution by a corrupt dictatorship of harmless artists or political dissidents.  Treating it as if it was not only completely misrepresents the case but has also seriously damaged the prospects of the three young women involved avoiding a lengthy  prison sentence.  To the extent that this is the case the fault lies not with Putin, the Russian state, the Russian Courts, the Russian Orthodox Church or the Russian police but with the women’s supporters both in Russia and the west.

(This post could not have been written without the help and encouragement of Anatoly Karlin and Mark Sleboda who have provided me with links that I have used.  I would also thank the blogger who I know as Moscow Exile for information about some of the events in the trial.  It goes without saying that any errors of fact and all statements of opinion in this post are my own).

POSTSCRIPT: Since writing the above I have been provided by Anatoly Karlin with a better and more literal and possibly more up to date translation of Article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation from which it is clear that possession of weapons or articles that may be used as weapons is not an essential element for the offence of hooliganism to be made out.  The women are not therefore in a position to defend themselves against a charge under Article 213 on the basis that they did not have weapons or articles that might be used as weapons in their possession.  This is consistent with what I have heard about the case in which no such defence seems to have been made.

139 thoughts on “PUSSY RIOT

  1. Dear Alexander Mercouris,

    May I offer you my profound thanks for your detailed and professional analysis of all the issues concerning the PR case. I am now posting the llink to your PR case analysis to my Guardianista acquaintances in the UK who have been bombarding me of late with queries about and criticisms of the legal action now being taken against three members of PR.

  2. Incredible Alexander!

    Clear & well researched.

    Most of the hyperbole passing for “analysis” in the mainstream press on this topic has been nothing but garbage. The Nation, commondreams.org and other so-called progressive organs have all been suckered by the Pussy Riot fiasco (In fact, ironically, many of them REFUSE to criticize the Obama administration on using the 1917 espionage act to persecute whistle blowers, the dreadful NDAA bill & his executive “right” to execute with out due processs or judicial oversight – but they somehow have time to hem and haw about Putin’s “despotism” and make a cause celebre out of Pussy Riot?).

    I’ve linked this on my facebook page. I would recommened trying to get this published in a British paper, or at the very least, see if you can get it published by the late Alexander Cockburn’s site Counterpunch – who has posted many articles (there were two such articles last week) from writers with a more objective view of Putin’s Russia. People really need to see this so they can have access to all of the specifics and the facts of the case so things can be placed in their proper context – something being intentionally left out of all of the venom being thrown at the Russian government over this overblown case.

    Thanks again.

  3. Doda’s boyfrined Adam “Nergal” who is a lead singer of blakc methal band has been charged with offending Christians by burning the bible on stage, however he was aquitted, the court ruling that the act was a part of artistic expression. I suppose if he burned it in the Church the verdict might have been different.

    • Dear AM,

      The big difference is that there is no doubt about Adam “Nergal” being a genuine artist and entertainer and a great deal of licence has always been shown to artists who do such things as part of an artistic performance. Russia is no exception. Pussy Riot are not in a position to make this defence if only because the lyrics of the “punk prayer” and its manner of performance make it clear that it was not an artistic performance but but a protest.

      • Adam Darski “Nergal” was acquitted mainly because of the closed nature of his show. He made the act during the concert of his pseudo-satanic group, so the performance was addressed only to those present during the concert (which is quite closed group of fans) and not to external and accidental audience.

  4. Thank you Alexander, this article was desperately needed. The ignorance of the anti-Russian media pundits is mindblowing. Thank you and regards.

  5. Remember when Sinead O’Connor tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II during a performance on Saturday Night Live? Although I had no idea what it was all about – like most people, I suspect – when it occurred, the core issue behind it (child abuse by the Catholic Church) actually had merit. And nobody could dispute O’ Connor’s artistic credentials at the time: she was a chart-topper.

    http://music.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=310857

    What was the reaction, do you remember? The west coast broadcast of Saturday Night Live used footage of her rehearsal performance, so as to deny airplay of the incident. She was, immediately and irrevocably, finished as a recording star – while she would continue to both record and perform, the mainstream audience was gone overnight. She was booed off the stage at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Tour.

    Where was the western martyr press then? The New York Times – which regards Pussy Riot’s actions with considerable sympathy – hypothesized at the time that blasphemy was “the new taboo of the 90′s” (since sex had become a recognized ingredient in all public discourse), and while it did express some sympathy with O’Connor which was mostly admiration for her cleverness at having introduced her wackiness in a live performance (since it would never have been permitted otherwise), the takeaway for me was this statement: ” …it’s clear that she has the attitude that afflicts all post-Romantic artists: the conviction that her private problems are the world’s concern.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/01/arts/pop-view-why-sinead-o-connor-hit-a-nerve.html

    From your lips to Pussy Riot’s ears, New York Times. If Pussy riot has a problem with Putin, it’s not the world’s problem, and claiming the right to carry out illegal acts in order to make it an international issue should be an occasion for punishment, not approbation. I agree with the proposed sentence of 3 years, I would have been good just with a term of community service. But on no account should they be released because of pressure from an alphabet soup of western human-rights organizations. Defend crime in your own country.

    An excellent post as usual, Alex, and one which is likely to become the defining one on the issue owing to its careful research and solid substantiation. Very well done.

  6. Excellent post, @alexander. Very well done! A herculean task, cleaning all the bulls*t out of the stables; but somebody had to do it.

    As an ex-literature major and a fan of Chernyshevsky’s work, the bit about Chernyshevsky caught my eye. The girls actually referred to Chernyshevsky in their manifesto?? Have they actually READ Chernyshevsky?

    Chernyshevsky’s view of woman’s dignity [ in что делать] consisted of productive labour, education, and healthy sexual liberation not involving frozen chickens. Here is his rosy vision of how progressive young people ought to comport themselves.

    Vera Pavlovna goes to medical schooll to become a doctor. Katya continues to organize the sewing cooperative. The girls and their male companions live a contented, but productive life together. Too wholesome?


    Что еще? Швейные, продолжая сживаться, продолжают существовать; их теперь уже три; Катерина Васильевна давно устроила свою, теперь много заменяет Веру Павловну в ее швейной, а скоро и вовсе должна будет заменить, потому что в нынешнем году Вера Павловна — простите ее — действительно будет держать экзамен на медика, и тогда ей уж вовсе некогда будет заниматься швейною.
    (….)
    И в самом деле они все живут спокойно. Живут ладно и дружно, и тихо и шумно, и весело и дельно. Но из этого еще не следует, чтобы мой рассказ о них был кончен, нет. Они все четверо еще люди молодые, деятельные; и если их жизнь устроилась ладно и дружно, хорошо и прочно, то от этого она нимало не перестала быть интересною, далеко нет, и я еще имею рассказать о них много, и ручаюсь, что продолжение моего рассказа о них будет гораздо любопытнее того, что я рассказывал о них до сих пор.

    • Dear Yalensis,

      They do indeed refer to Chernyshevsky. In her final speech today Tolokonnikova referred to an impressive galaxy of worthies in her support ranging from Jesus to Socrates. To what extent she has really read what any of these people have written I of course cannot say. However she is a philosophy student at MGU so presumably she has read extensively. Alyokhina is also a student at MGU and one of her lecturers at the trial rated her poetry highly. There is no reason to doubt that we are talking about intelligent and educated and very articulate young people with a high level of political commitment.

      Perhaps I ought to say that whatever one thinks of Voina and Pussy Riot they do seem to have a genuine commitment to Russia. There is a clear wish to link their actions to that of earlier generations of Russian intellectuals and of the Russian avant garde and I read on one of Voina’s posts a comment from one of its members that he will never leave or abandon Russia. The comment about Chernyshevsky fits into that even if it shows a complete misunderstanding of Chernyshevsky’s ideas.

      • Well, I don’t much care for Pussy Riot, but I guess anyone who likes Chernyshevsky can’t be all bad!

        Chernyshevsky did Time in Siberia, by the way. His crime was being too much of a free-thinker. Before his exile, he underwent a mock execution at St. Peter-Paul fortress. According to legend, young female students who were inspired by Chernyshevsky’s women’s lib ideas rushed forward and tossed flowers at him when he was led out for his Degradement Ceremony.

      • I know university education system in Russia very well, so I would not call these individuals “intellectuals”, based on the fact that they are MGU students. Many students do not “read” nowadays – they scan, nor they read original works. Whatever they waffle about Chernyshevsky is some superficial remnant knowledge from secondary school… I wouldn’t take their committment to Russia seriously either, Nolokonnikova has a residence permit in Canada.

      • Actually, Alehina is not an MGU student – she studies journalism in a non-public university founded in 1994. God only knows what they learn there…

      • I know university education system in Russia very well, so I would not call these individuals “intellectuals”, based on the fact that they are MGU students. Many students do not “read” nowadays – they scan, nor they read original works.

        It’s the same in Berkeley.

  7. Dear Alex,

    Thanks very much for taking the time and effort to research and write this insightful article.

    It should be more widely read, perhaps on Counterpunch.org, World Socialist Web Site (wsws.org), Anti-war.com or Stephen J Lendman’s blog. You may wish to contact Jeff Rense in the US to see if he can link the article to his website rense.com. He does give equal time to links to UFO articles, Institute for Historical Review articles and similar dodgy folks but he also takes on Guardian articles.

    • Dear Peter,

      Thanks for this. I was careful to use the word “apparently” because I am not absolutely sure that the woman involved is Alyokhina or that Tolokonnikova was present. When researching the post I have read comments that said that it was Alyokhina and that Tolokonnikova was present. As I cannot read Russian I cannot confirm or refute this from Russian sources. The woman in the film does look like Alyokhina to me and this post from RT (a jaundiced source I agree) does appear to suggest that it was Alyokhina but as you may be aware I have problems with my eyesight and I cannot see film clearly.

      To my mind the point anyway is irrelevant given that in their interview Pussy Riot expressly endorsed the more radical aspect of Voina’s activities and that Tolokonnikova at least has been involved in some of the more extreme actions of Voina.

  8. Dear Alexander,

    Your analysis is truly monumental, but I’d like to offer you some additional info to consider.

    First, you may have heard that a few days ago, a bunch of Russian defense lawyers published an open letter in support of Pussy Riots:

    http://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/58750.html

    In this letter, they claim that the Russian Criminal Code doesn’t include the term “insulting religious believes.” This term is only included in the Code of Administrative Violations. It therefore follows that charging Pussy Riots with “hooliganism” (as per Article 213 of the Criminal Code) is against the law. What do you think about it?

    Besides, you may be surprised to know (I was!) that only 7% of the Cathedral space is used for “purely” religious purposes; the rest for other things, including commercial renting. Two pieces illustrate this point.

    Here you can see Russian Olympic team before trip to London:

    http://drugoi.livejournal.com/3757293.html

    Please, note that the team is standing exactly at the same place where Pussy Riots conducted their “performance.” (Please, also read the text under the photo.)

    Moreover, there is a nice tradition to hold the so-called corporate events at the Cathedral:

    http://www.online812.ru/2012/07/16/011/,

    meaning that folks wander around the Cathedral drinking alcohol.

    Now, if making cheap photo-ops and drinking booze with chicks is acceptable in this particular “place of worship,” then why what Pussy Riots did is deemed the violation of the CRIMINAL law? Because they wasn’t authorized to do that? Well, it’s hardly a CRIMINAL offense. Or because the content of their speech? Then, it’s a blatant political persecution.

    I’d love to know your opinion on that.

    Best,
    Eugene Ivanov

      • Would you recommend her to ask for asylum in the UK? Because, you know, one of the security guards could have lost his sleep over the fact.

      • Dear Eugene,

        Thank you for your as always interesting and thoughtful comment.

        1. The point about Article 213 is a fully legitimate point of the sort beloved by lawyers which the defence is or would have been fully entilted to make. I do not know whether the defence in fact made it. In England these sort of arguments are normally thrashed out before a judge either at a pre trial hearing or on the first day of the trial without the jury present. If the defence did not make it at the trial, which it should have done (and nothing about the defence would surprise me) then in the event of conviction I would expect the point to be made on appeal.

        For what it’s worth my opinion is that Article 213 in this case is being interpreted by reference to Article 3 paragraph 6 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association allowing for a prosecution on a charge of hooliganism “insulting religious beliefs” to be brought under the Article. That surely will be what the prosection will say. The prosecution can point to the fact that the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association does not create new offences but is instead intended to interpret existing ones.

        The point is certainly arguable however. If the case does go to appeal we will see what the appeal court says and what its reasoning will be.

        2. By contrast I don’t think there is any force at all in the second point though as it happens it is one I happen to know the defence did make in the trial. It says much for the incompetence of the defence that one example cited was a performance in the Cathedral by the group Boney M. Apparently the defence is unaware that Boney M are Christians.

        In most parts of the world or at least in Europe churches are regularly used not just as places of worship but as community centres and as places of gathering and entertainment. I have on many occasions attended classical music concerts in London churches. Persons who attend a church for such a purpose not only do so with the church’s agreement and by invitation but by accepting that invitation implicitly agree in advance that whilst present in the church they will show respect to the church and will conform to the standard of behaviour expected of someone in a church. In the case of the Olympic team the example is particularly bad because the presence of the priest at the centre of the photograph shows that the team was not only invited to the Cathedral by the Russian Orthodox Church but was obviously invited so that it could be given the Russian Orthodox Church’s public support and perhaps its blessing.

        There is simply no comparison between any of these activities and the invasion of the Cathedral by a group of young women performing a grotesque parody of the Church’s rituals which contained abuse of the Patriarch and which they filmed and uploaded onto YouTube so the world could see it. I am not good at arguing by analogy (unlike you) but a possible analogy could be between holding a cocktail party in one’s house with invited guests and having one’s house invaded by a gang of squatters who proceed to hold a drug fuelled sex orgy in one’s bedroom.

      • As Katia of PussyRiot put it: “Had we sang “Blessed Virgin save Putin” we wouldn’t be sitting here” (meaning in the dock) so that pretty much sums up the case and answers any arguments

      • Dear Bayan,

        “….so that pretty much sums up the case and answers any arguments”.

        In no sense. If Pussy Riot had invaded the Cathedral and conducted an obsence parody of Christian worship abusing the Patriarch in his own Cathedral in exactly the way that they did but uttering praise of Putin instead of criticism that would have been every bit as much of a criminal offence as what they did. I would add that in my opinion (and your comments tend to bear this out) if Pussy Riot had committed the crime to praise Putin and not to condemn him those who now oppose the prosecution would in that case support it and, in the purely hypothetical case that no prosecution was brought, would denounce the Russian authorities for failing to bring it.

        I would also say that I think it is very likely that if Pussy Riot had praised Putin instread of condemning him that Putin would have been blamed for the whole affair and we would now be reading claims that Putin had in some way put them them up to it.

      • And here is the closing statement of Samutsevitch.

        http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/13/closing-statement-in-pussy-riot-trial/

        I have to say that given the nature of the charge this statement looks to me dangerously self incriminating and self destructive. It repeats allegations against the Patriarch who it again accuses of being a KGB agent and says that the Russian Orthodox Church has become an instrument of power used by a state that is corrupt and oppressive. Given that the women are being accused of attacking the Russian Orthodox Church making a statement that contains comments like this seems to me unwise to say the least. Did the women I wonder agree these statements with their lawyers and did their lawyers warn them of what the effect of such statements might be?

    • I thought the problem was that Pussy Riot were parodying Orthodox practices – by performing the practice of “prayer” in the Church with offensive words like “sran gospodnaya” or “suka” (afaik the Putin element was later added to the video). This is a bit different to corporate events (which are not religious practices) and it could be the case for offending religious felings … but of course, it can’t be, if the offence isn’t in the Russian law!

      • A similar argument to one of those put forward by Eugene was recently made in the Moscow News by its music columnist, in that he said that the popular songster Philip Kirkorov, who has criticised PR and, according to the MN columnist, whose performances only appeal to the Lumpenproletariat, his audiences consisting mainly of women office cleaners and state farm workers, essentially did the same as PR did when he sang in church at the christening of his first child.

        Of course, Kirkorov had asked for and had been given permission to sing in church at his child’s christening and the congregation, consisting of office cleaners and state farmhands presumably, wanted to hear him sing. As far as I am aware, Kirkorov did not use offensive language either when he performed in church either.

      • Just want to add that I don’t support prosecution of PR – I think girls should have been given a 2-week jail sentence just like the FEMEN members who threw herself at Patriarch with “kill Kiril” printed on her T-shirt. Russia could have avoided a PR disaster.

      • As regards the activities of FEMEN, I remember their exhibitionism that took place outside of the Christ the Redeemer Cathedral, Moscow, a couple of days before the presidential election. The almost naked protesters acted as though they were penitents, their hips swathed with a loincloth made of sacking as they pretended to scourge themselves whilst screeching “Oh Lord, preserve us from Tsar Putin”. They were arrested and, of course, whilst being manhandled they went through their ritual screaming as though an attempt was being made to ravish them.

        Far more professional in their performances than the so-called feminist punk group “Pussy Riot”, FEMEN brought with them a gaggle of photojournalists to record the show as well as having already done a full (un)dress rehearsal for photojournalists in a flat in Moscow. (It’s on YouTube and worth watching!)

        The feminist exhibitionists were fined as a result of their actions. Perhaps they did not have to undergo a trail because their show was outside of the cathedral. Also, they never denied performing immodestly in a public place: they wanted everyone to know what they had done and why they had done it. I presume they never denied the charges because doing so would have been illogical: they are, after all, exhibitionists and the whole purpose of their exhibitionism is to be noticed. And perhaps the fact that the members of FEMEN are Ukrainian citizens might have had something to do with the leniency of the legal action taken against them. However, the fact that they publicly mocked Putin had no part in the reason for their arrest or the degree of punishment that was imposed upon them.

        In the PR case, however, the whole Western line has been that these “artists” are being punished because they have mocked Putin, whereas the charges brought against them are of hooliganism and insulting religious beliefs.

        FEMEN, I presume, were not charged with insulting religious beliefs because they didn’t: they did not act out a parody of ROC liturgy in a church, they just displayed their rather attractive figures in public and protested. Basically, they were fined for getting their tits out and creating a public nuisance, not for what they were protesting about.

      • PS It wasn’t before the presidential election: the FEMEN event outside the Christ the Redeemer Cathedral took place on December 10th, 2011, before the Duma election. Despite the cold, the plucky lasses peeled off to protest. And they sung a parody of the Imperial Anthem “God Save the Tsar!” having changed the words slightly so that they sang “God, get rid of the tsar!”

        Putin’s press secretary at the time said that the then Prime Minister of Russia simply thought that the FEMEN exhibitionists were just “silly girls”.

    • The defense doesn’t have to be aware what Bone M’s religious creed is. If you read the testimonies of the so called complainants, you must know that they had dubbed Pussy Riot’s performance “demonic jerking”. Knowing how animated Boney M is on stage I easily can liken their performance to “demonic jerking” (if i’m a sanctimonious hypocritical religious fanatic) as well. So the only difference between these two types of “jerkings” is the approval of the Church. Which leads to conclusion that it’s the Church who qualifies crime and not jurists.

      Secondly the girls from Pussy Riot themselves testified that they’re sympathetic
      towards Christianity, not strangers to it and didn’t call themselves atheists. That they’re offended by what current Church leaders turn the Christian faith into (which by the way reaction to their act has distinctly demonstrated). So you cannot set Boney M’s Christianity against Pussy Riot’s and by this justify Boney M’s right to desecrate the Cathedral of the Christ The Saviour. Also mind you that only 7%, if memory serves me, of this premises belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. And the part where Pussy Riot performed does not belong to it.

      • Dear Banyan,

        I have already fully answered all the points you make in response to Eugene’s comment. Briefly:

        1. Boney M performed in the Cathedral as guests of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church is entitled to invite performers like Boney M to perform in the Cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church is entitled to make commercial use of part of the Cathedral. These are common practices in many churches in many countries.

        2. Boney M’s performance was not an obscene parody of the act of Christian worship and did not abuse the Patriarch in excremental language in his own Cathedral. There is absolutely no comparison between Boney M’s performance and Pussy Riot’s.

        3. Of course Pussy Riot deny they are anti Christian. If they admitted they were anti Christian they would be pleading guilty to the charge brought against them under Article 213. It is for the Court to decide whether or not to accept their plea and to decide whether what they did was or was not intended to offend Orthodox Christians and whether it can be classifed as a religious hate crime. Given that the “punk prayer” was as I say an obscene parody of the act of Christian worship that was clearly planned in advance my opinion for the reasons I said in the post is that it probably was and that the three women will have great difficulty persuading a Court that they did not intend the “punk prayer” to cause the offence that it did.

        4. I find it impossible to believe that Tolokonnikova at least is any sense a Christian in the light of her comments and what she says in the manifesto she published in May.

        5. As for the comments the three women made at the trial – that they were angry with the way the Church hierarchy is supposedly misinterpreting Christianity – like so much else the women have said since they were arrested these comments seem to me at the very least unwise. They suggest the women think they have a better understanding of Christianity than the Patriarch and the hierarchy of Russian Orthodox Church. If so this might be treated as further evidence that they have an antagonistic attitude to the Russian Orthodox Church. If that is how the Court sees these comments (and I can easily see how it might do so) then it will find them guilty and the women will have condemned themselves. In that case and not for the first time political posturing will have done the women’s chances of avoiding a gaol sentence harm.

      • “…only 7%, if memory serves me, of this premises belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church.”

        According to what I remember reading, the Church doesn’t own any part of the premises, which belongs to the City of Moscow. The City has assigned the premises to a nonprofit foundation for maintaining the premises (this foundation was previously the foundation that raised funds for restoration). The foundation rents approximately 7% of the premises to the Russian Orthodox Church for some administrative offices.

      • Imagine that it was a group of Arab appearing people appearing at a christian service at any western venue, swearing, blaspheming and insulting the minister. I know what would happen in my country, Australia. Under the racial discrimination act, they would be punished. Furthermore the press would have had a field day, not supporting them but exhibiting extreme criticism. I think it is a put up job to make Putin look bad when he prevents the invasion of Syria in the UN Security Council. I wonder how much they were paid.

  9. @alexander: I wonder if you could comment on that part of the Russian law about “sowing religious discord”, and so on. I always assumed that applied more to hate crimes against Jews or Muslims than to hurting the feelings of Orthodox believers.
    I do believe that any government has the right to limit speech or actions which might lead to sectarian conflict. Each nation is different and has its own tabus. For example, nations like France and Spain had to go through very complex processes to set proper boundaries between the government and the Catholic Church.
    In summary, while I think it is good to treat everybody with respect, I would argue that in today’s Russia there is no particular urgent need to protect the rights of the Russian Orthodox Church or coddle the feelings of its believers. ROC is the dominant religion of the ethnic majority, and also in pretty tight with the current government. The Church is neither vulnerable nor in need of protection, although obviously I would never condone vandalism or graffiti or anything like that. .

    • Dear Yalensis,

      You touch on a very interesting and important point, though not one that arises in the Pussy Riot case.

      I think you absolutely right that in a secular country such as Russia it is wrong to privilege any particular religious group over another or indeed any religious group over society as a whole. It is wrong to grant special protection to the Russian Orthodox Church or its believers and any law that does or which treats the “sowing of religious hatred” as being specifically intended to protect the Russian Orthodox Church in my opinion is clearly wrong. That does not of course mean that there should not be religious hate crimes. Crimes motivated by religious hatred should be punished in exactly the same way as crimes motivated by racial hatred should be.

      However when the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Religion and Religious Association was passed in the late 1990s there was a lot of criticism that it gave a privileged position to the Russian Orthodox Church. I have not studied this part of the law and I do not know for a fact that this is true but I strongly suspect that it is. If so then I agree with the criticism of the law. So interestingly did Yeltsin who initially refused to sign off the law precisely because he said it gave too many privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church. In the end Yeltsin only signed the law because he was forced to do after an overwhelming vote in the Duma override his veto, the only case I believe in Russia’s history when this has happened. I ought to say (and you will not be surprised when I tell you this) that the KPRF supported the law.

      There has to be a question about whether and to what extent any provisions in the law that are said to privilege the Russian Orthodox Church are compatible with Russia’s constitution. I do not know whether those parts of the law if they exist have ever been challenged in the Constitutional Court. I doubt it somehow.

      • Dear alexander: Thank you for your reply. These are all extremely interesting issues. None of this abstract philosophizing (of which I am extremely guilty) should detract from what I believe is your main contribution in this discussion, namely: As a laywer, you are able to analyze the actual machinery of the law in a way that most of us do not understand. Civilians such as myself have a tendency to burst out with “Oh, that’s not right!” or “That’s not fair!” because we don’t understand that the Law is in many ways a machine that operates according to its own rules. Any person who is unfortunate enough (or foolish) enough to fall into that threshing machine has to then operate within the workings of that machine.
        Despite what Western propagandists believe, the Russian Federation does actually have a legal code. It isn’t just Putin sitting on his throne like Solomon and making up the law as he goes along. (This is all part of the general tendency to completely de-legitimize everything that is Russian, it goes without saying.)
        I read somewhere that in Russia (which is a Napoleonic Law nation, where Prosecution has a huge advantage over Defense), that any person who is formally charged with a crime has a statistically less than 2% chance of beating the rap. The moral of the story: In Russia, if you fight the Law, the Law (usually) wins:

      • Dear Yalensis,

        Thanks again for your kind words.

        As to the specific points you make, you are absolutely right about all you say. No one disputes that in Russia the courts are absurdly prosecution minded over and above the bias in favour of the prosecution which as you correctly say exists in Napoleonic systems. I would just say though that though I do not have any statistics immediately to hand, the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in Britain also end in convictions. People have a misconceived idea about the British system because of the system of jury trials that exists here. However only a small minority of cases (fewer than 10%) are heard before juries. The vast majority of cases are tried before court officials called magistrates without a jury and the vast majority of those end in convictions.

        Having said this, your comment about the remorseless quality of the legal process is spot on. That is why anyone who finds themselves in this situation needs good advice given with a clear head. That is where I feel the three women in the Pussy Riot case have been badly let down. Whilst researching the post I had a daydream of phoning one or two people with whom I am acquainted and who are senior criminal defence advocates and asking them to take a flight to Moscow to try to bring some sanity to the case. Obviously this was impossible not because of the difference in the law (the law is straightforward) but because the differences in language and the politics make it impossible. However I am sure (Peter please note) that if the case had been properly handled the three women would be free by now.

        Lastly, just to say that since I know that you are something of a literary buff, the two best novels I know about the criminal process each of which in a very different way captures something of the pitiless quality of it are Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Kafka’s The Trial.

      • Alex, why would you say that Crime and Punishment illustrates the “pitiless” nature of the legal system? Roskolnikov got something like 8 years (IIRC) for murder. In Britain at that time he’d have likely been hanged. Agreed with The Trial though.

      • Dear Alexander Mercouris,
        As regards your point that the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in the UK result in convictions, as far as prosecutions are concerned I have always been given to believe that as a general rule of thumb a prosecution only takes place if the police and prosecution service are 75% sure of getting a conviction in court. I read not long ago that the prosecution service has been up in arms about the increasing number of failed prosecutions in the UK. They clearly do not like the defence winning, hence the annoying expression I have heard uttered many times by police officers after a failed prosecution: “He got off with it”.

  10. Dear AP,

    I understand your point about the public relations damage the case has done to Russia. At the end of the day however any state has to show that it is capable of maintaining public order and of enforcing its laws even if in the face of negative publicity.

    Voina and Pussy Riot have continuously and deliberately broken the law. In Pussy Riot’s case there has been a definite escalation in conduct. Up to the event in the Cathedral the authorities showed remarkable forbearance towards the group, (far more so than would have by the authorities in Britain if faced by a similar challenge to public order. The inevitable result was that Pussy Riot were becoming bolder and more aggressive in their actions. At some point the authorities had to act to bring all this to a stop. Had they failed to do so they would have failed in the basic duty of all authoritiese, which is to maintain public order and enforce the law. In this case I think a prosecution became unavoidable when Pussy Riot took the decision to publicise what they did by uploading film of their “punk prayer” onto YouTube. At that point it was simply impossible for the authorities to have overlooked it.

    I would however make two points:

    1. There has been a huge amount of exaggeration about this case. Though as a public order offence the “punk prayer” is very much at the top end of the scale (and is far more serious than the wearing of a T shirt with a silly comment of “Kill Kirill”) it is dare I say it still no more than a public order offence. Those like Eugene and Peter who probably think and say that no one was personally threatened or injured and that there was no theft or damage to property make a perfectly valid point. The reason this case has got so completely out of hand is not however because of any especially aggressive action by the prosecution but because the defence instead of dealing with the case as the defence of three young women who committed a public order offence chose instead to go all overboard and behaved as if they were defending Mandela at Rivonia or Dimitrov at Leipzig. This was absurd and even then they botched it.

    2. This case does however show up Russia’s appalling inability to put its own case. I am in the process of circulating my post to various journalists in Britain (and thanks by the way to RC and Jennifer for their kind words and helpful suggestions) including to William Rees Mogg of the Times who wrote the famous 1969 editorial about not breaking a butterfly on a wheel which I discussed in the article. I am also sending my article to the heads of the major Churches here and to the Chief Rabbi. Far from everybody in Britain is sympathetic to anarchist punks who live irregular lifestyles and even amongst many who are I have no doubt that if the facts are carefully explained many opinions would change. Why am I doing this rather than the Russian government?

    • Voina and Pussy Riot have continuously…

      As I already pointed out, Voina and Pussy Riot are not the same group. Your stubborn attempts to apply guilt by (false) association only betray the weakness of your core argument.

      … and deliberately broken the law.

      Just to make sure we’re on the same page, which law exactly has been broken in the last case? Let’s make it multiple choice:

      In your opinion, what exactly are the defendants in the current case guilty of?

      a) Хулиганство (Статья 213 УК РФ)

      b) Мелкое хулиганство (Статья 20.1 КоАП РФ)

      c) Нарушение законодательства о свободе совести, свободе вероисповедания и о религиозных объединениях (Статья 5.26 КоАП РФ)

      d) other offence (clarify which)

      • Dear Peter,

        I have discussed the relationship between Voina and Pussy Riot extensively in my post but the question of guilt by association which you seem worried about does not exist. No one, not the prosecution and not me, is saying that the three women are guilty because of a possible connection between Pussy Riot and Voina.

        As to your multiple choice question as I do not speak Russian I cannot answer it. However if you are asking me which offence I think the three women committed then my answer is that that is a question for the court not me. As I said in my post I do not wish to pre judge the decision of the court. The purpose of my post was not to prove that the women are guilty of an offence under Article 213, that is the prosecution’s job not mine, but to explain why the prosecution was brought in the first place.

        That a public order offence was committed there is no doubt. Even the women admit that though they say it was only an administrative offence which should be dealt with by administrative penalties. Please note that the distinction that exists in Russia between administrative offences and criminal offences does not exist in Britain and my post is addressed mainly to a British audience.

      • As I already pointed out, Voina and Pussy Riot are not the same group.

        They are not the same group nominally but they are so overlapping in membership that they might as well be in practice.

  11. Dear Moscow Exile,

    One of the very interesting things I discovered as I was researching my article was that there is no love lost between Pussy Riot and FEMEN. I say this because when I first heard about Pussy Riot I assumed as I think did many people that there was a connection between the two groups. In fact no such connection exists. I think you can see even in Pussy Riot’s interview (of which I gave a link in my article) that the dominant feeling on Pussy Riot towards FEMEN is one of condescension tinged with jealousy.

    Whatever you may think of FEMEN they are feminists whose main concern is feminist issues. That does not mean of course that they do not have other agendas. However their ideology and that of Pussy Riot is completely different.

    As a protest group FEMEN have a very clear understand of how far they can go and of where the boundaries of socially acceptable protest are. The farcical scenes you describe in which they act out the part of Christian penitents and make a play on the former imperial anthem are cases in point. These are minor and cheeky public order offences and were treated by the authorities as such. As a well organised and highly professional protest group FEMEN have obviously developed good contacts with both the media and the authorities. Their protests should be understood for what they are, which is a carefully choreographed game in which everybody including the police and the authorities knows their place.

    Voina and Pussy Riot are completely different. They show no understanding of boundaries perhaps because as anarchists they do not recognise boundaries (NB: rejection of boundaries is surely what their bizarre sexual behaviour is all about). Their actions have involved a degree of indiscriminate violence that FEMEN never use. Unlike FEMEN Pussy Riot try to keep their identities secret so they can have no contacts with the police or with the authorities. As for the performance in the Cathedral this was as I have explained an obsence parody of a Christian ritual carried out at the precise place in the church where the actual ritual is performed by the priests. This insults religious beliefs in a way nothing FEMEN has ever done could possibly do. It is totally unlike anything FEMEN has ever done and that includes the two performances of FEMEN you describe in your comments.

  12. Alexander,

    Counterpunch has now published a rebuttal of Mike Whitney’s article by someone called Chris Randolph in which he attacks Whitney as ignorant. He seems to view Pussy Riot as “heroes.” I would really like to have your article published over there now more than ever. There are also attacks from him in the article on how Putin’s economic strategy will wage war on the poor in Russia by forcing austerity upon them by cutting wages, etc; I don’t know if this is true, but it will be great to see yourself, Anatoly Karlin or Mark Chapman comment on his claims:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/09/in-defense-of-pussy-riot-and-the-russian-punk-movement/

    My personal view is that I don’t think there should be laws restricting freedom of speech outside of the usual “yelling fire in a crowded theater,” but this is a law that the Russian people will have to tackle & contend with themselves. I agree with another poster who stated that all of the negative PR could’ve been avoided if the authorities had just given them a stiff Fine and community service. I do realize that the defense used this case to grandstand before the west rather than seeing to their client’s best interest and I think this is unfortunate. The West, true to form, is using this to engage in more Putin bashing when he really has very little to do with the case (In fact, I believe he has publicly called for leniency). There’s no evidence that he had anything to do with their prosecution and you’ve already pointed out that the jibes at Putin were later edited into the video to make a political statement which was initially just aimed at the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Again, thanks for this article.

    • Dear RC,

      Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. I am indeed sending my article to Counterpunch though whether they would be interested in publishing an article as closely argued and as long as mine I have to honestly say I rather doubt.

      As to the article in Counterpunch, it shows up two basic misconceptions about the case. The first is that it is somehow concerned with Russian punk or popular culture when it is not. The second is that it is about criticism of Putin, which for the reasons I set out in my article I cannot see how it can be.

      I would say that the angry comments the writer makes about how criticism of Putin is being suppressed by “the Left” seem to me rather odd. I have not noticed any absence of Left wing criticism of Putin or any desire to suppress such criticism nor did I see any sign of such suppression in Mike Whitney’s article. Rather what this latest article shows is that it is criticism of Pussy Riot not Putin that some people are trying to suppress.

      • Dear RC,

        Before I forget there is just one quick point I want to clarify. It is the prosecution and some of its witnesses who are saying that words were added to the film of the “punk prayer” that appeared on YouTube. Since I wasn’t there I do not know whether this was the case or not.

  13. A few questions for the author of an excellent analysis:
    What is the role of expert opinion (in Russian, “ekspertiz”) in establishing the motive in the Pussy Riot case?

    When was the first ekspertiz requested, who was on the expert commission, and what were their credentials? When was the ekspertiz delivered and what were the conclusions?

    The same questions with respect to the second ekspertiz.

    The same questions with respect to the third ekspertiz.

    What in Karlin’s translation of Article 213 leads to the conclusion that “a weapon or an object used as a weapon” is not an essential element of hooliganism? You might use Google translate and or other services on http://www.zakonrf.info/uk/213/

    • Dear Bill,

      I have no idea whether any expert witness was called at all. The role of an expert witness in the case would be to explain to the Court the layout of the church, the role of the Altar and the sanctuary and the manner in which the “punk prayer” either did or did not parody the ritual of Christian worship. If an expert witness was not called then this might be a ground of appeal. Nothing about this case would surprise me.

      As to the question of weapons it seems to me that the wording clearly separates reference to them from the remainder of the offence making the use of weapons an aggravating factor rather than an essential feature of the offence. Since the question of weapons does not seem to have been made by anyone in the case or indeed in Russia I think we can safely say that it is not an issue.

      • Dear Bill,

        Just to add quickly that it is not the role of the expert to decide motive. An expert does not give evidence about motive. That is a something to be decided by the Court.

      • Dear Alexander,
        An expert opinion is standard in such cases involving extremism, hatred or enmity toward a political. ideological, racial, national, or religious group, etc. In the Pussy Riot case, there were three requests by the investigators for the prosecution for an expert opinion. There doesn’t seem to be much in English on this aspect of the case.
        http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20120426/262956845.html
        “The expert investigation does not consider the actions of the Pussy Riot band … to be a crime….”

        http://rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20120512/263121295.html
        “The Moscow City Court has resolved not to request the psycholinguistic appraisal of the Pussy Riot case concerning the three female punk rockers charged with hooliganism, the court told the Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI/rapsinews.com).”
        “The defense stated that they learnt of the psycholinguistic research undertaken as part of the investigation only after the arrest extension. The defense believe the results disprove the charges, however the judges have refused to request this analysis from the investigators.”

        http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/germany-russia-dialogue-group-silent-on-human-rights-and-pussy-riot-a-848442.html
        “State prosecutors are basing their case on an expert opinion which holds that the women violated a resolution made during a synod of the Eastern Catholic Churches in A.D. 691 that forbids “unnatural screaming” in a church.”

        The first two expert opinions were requested from an institute normally used by the prosecution in such cases: http://www.ciat.info/

        One of the defense attorneys “published” those expert opinions when they became available to the defense.
        First: http://mark-feygin.livejournal.com/93368.html (the conclusions “ВЫВОДЫ” are on pp. 24-25). No basis for charging with the crime.
        The investigators provided additional evidence and refined their questions for a second request.
        Second: http://mark-feygin.livejournal.com/93621.html (the conclusions “ВЫВОДЫ” are on pp. 35-37). No basis for charging with the crime.
        The third opinion was obtained from a committee of three experts picked by the investigators.

        The judge did not allow any of the experts involved in producing these opinions to testify as a witness. Further, it might be worth considering the news report at http://www.mk.ru/social/article/2012/08/03/733312-v-tretey-ekspertize-po-delu-pussy-riot-nashli-falsifikatsii.html (in Russian).

      • Dear Bill,

        Thanks for this.

        Clearly expert evidence was sought and clearly it did touch on ritual questions. As for the “psycholinguistic” evidence my own opinion for what it’s worth is that the Court was right to exclude it since it looks to me completely worthless. As I said previously an expert is in no position to comment about motive at least not in a case of this sort or to take any view on whether a crime was or was not committed since these are questions of fact and law which cannot be decided by an expert but which must be decided by the Court. If the defence wants to argue otherwise than they will doubtless do so on appeal.

      • Dear Alexander,

        Regarding your opinion that “the Court was right to exclude it” I point out that that Court did NOT exclude it. The Court did not allow any expert involved in producing the expert opinion to testify as a witness in trial, i.e., the defense had no opportunity to ask any questions regarding the expert opinions that are part of the court record. I personally have no doubt that expert opinion will be included in the Court’s decision. Further, I think the odds of conviction are reasonably high. That judge’s reported conviction rate is 99.4%.

      • Dear Bill,

        If the Court did not exclude the expert evidence then I really don’t see the defence’s problem especially if the evidence (which I still consider worthless) was in the defence’s favour. An expert is there to assist the Court. If the Court decides to accept the expert’s report without calling the expert himself then that is a matter for the Court. I understand this is frequently done in Napoleonic systems.

        I have to say that I also think the case is likely to end in a conviction for the charge under Article 213 if only because the defence failed to argue its case properly. The big question is what the sentence will be.

        It is possible that the conviction will be set aside on appeal on the grounds that the trial was so chaotically conducted that there has been a mistrial. However that will simply prolong the case causing more stress for the defendants.

  14. Dear alexander:
    I think what my new BFF peter is trying to say, in his inimitable fashion, that the girls should be charged under 20.1 or 5.26 rather than 213. Here are my translations to assist you. (This is quick and dirty translation, and no guarantees I use accurate legal jargon).

    Статья 20.1. Мелкое хулиганство
    [Кодекс РФ об административных правонарушениях] [Глава 20] [Статья 20.1]
    1. Мелкое хулиганство, то есть нарушение общественного порядка, выражающее явное неуважение к обществу, сопровождающееся нецензурной бранью в общественных местах, оскорбительным приставанием к гражданам, а равно уничтожением или повреждением чужого имущества, -
    влечет наложение административного штрафа в размере от пятисот до одной тысячи рублей или административный арест на срок до пятнадцати суток.
    2. Те же действия, сопряженные с неповиновением законному требованию представителя власти либо иного лица, исполняющего обязанности по охране общественного порядка или пресекающего нарушение общественного порядка, -
    влекут наложение административного штрафа в размере от одной тысячи до двух тысяч пятисот рублей или административный арест на срок до пятнадцати суток.

    20.1 Petty hooliganism
    1. Petty hooliganism, that is, disruption of public order, expressing a clear disrespect for society, accompanied by obscene cursing in public places, offensive hassling of citizens, and also destruction or harming of somebody else’s property. Draws application of an adminstrative fine in the amount of 500 to 1000 rubles; or administrative detention for a term up to 15 days.
    2. Same activities (as listed above), accompanied by insubordination towards the demand of a representative of the law or towards any other person who is carrying out duties to guard public order, or who is attempting to prevent disruption of public order. Draws application of an administrative fine in the amount of 1000 to 2500 rubles or administrative detention for a term up to 15 days.

    Статья 5.26. Нарушение законодательства о свободе совести, свободе вероисповедания и о религиозных объединениях
    [Кодекс РФ об административных правонарушениях] [Глава 5] [Статья 5.26]
    1. Воспрепятствование осуществлению права на свободу совести и свободу вероисповедания, в том числе принятию религиозных или иных убеждений или отказу от них, вступлению в религиозное объединение или выходу из него, -
    влечет наложение административного штрафа на граждан в размере от ста до трехсот рублей; на должностных лиц – от трехсот до восьмисот рублей.
    2. Оскорбление религиозных чувств граждан либо осквернение почитаемых ими предметов, знаков и эмблем мировоззренческой символики -
    влечет наложение административного штрафа на граждан в размере от пятисот до одной тысячи рублей.

    5.26 Violation of law on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and religious institutions
    1. Preventing the carrying out of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including (converting to) religious or other beliefs, or refusing to accept (such beliefs), entering into a religious organization, or leaving such. Draws application of an adminstrative fine in the amount of 100 to 300 rubles; or (in the case of persons with authority) – from 300 to 800 rubles.
    2. Offending the religious feelings of citizens or profaning revered by them objects, symbols and emblems representing their world view. Draws application of an administrative fine in the amount of 500 to 1000 rubles.

    • P.S. If this were a jury trial, and if I were on the jury, then I vote for 20.1 (Petty hooliganism).
      But I would levy them the maximum fine of 2500 rubles, just for being pro-Western puppets and a**holes.

      • Dear Yalensis,

        Thank you very much for these translations.

        I think what Peter doesn’t realise is that the difference between us and him is actually very small. Like you I don’t minimise the offence but nor do I exaggerate it. Let me say again, it was only a public order offence.

        There is a fully legitimate argument about whether the offence should be punished as an offence under Article 213 or whether falls within the range of administrative offences set out by you and Peter. That argument is being lost or at the very least put at serious risk because of the disastrous tactics of the defence.

        If right at the start of the case the three women had handed themselves in and made a full apology to the Church and the Patriarch (which need not and should not have included withdrawing criticism of the Patriarch’s decision to support Putin) the dynamic of the case would have been completely different. The case might then have been treated as an administrative offence, as was the earlier offence committed when the women performed their action on Lobnoe Mesto in Red Square or, if there had been a prosecution under Article 213, the women might have received a community service order or at worst a very short prison sentence or (more likely) a suspended sentence Either way the case would be over by now (the trial was originally supposed to happen in April) and the women would be free.

        As I have said before I do not really want to anticipate the Court’s Judgment. However if pushed I would say that this probably is a case of hooliganism under Article 213 but one which only merits a community service order or a suspended sentence. A lengthy prison sentence is too harsh and if that is what the Court decides then if this case were happening in England I would expect it to be set aside on appeal.

  15. Dear Alex,

    I very much appreciate your informative and comprehensive analysis here. A few quick worries… First, I can see that the ‘punk prayer’ might well have genuinely offended some of the worshippers, and also that religious groups and leaders should be perfectly free to intervene in politics. I do think however that a certain relaxation of sensitivities to protest and mockery on the part of the religious is in order when such political involvement occurs. Just to keep the point straightforward, I would say that at some point a church does become a suitable venue for a political protest. To say that religious groups should be secure from the kind of mockery that politicians should have to endure in a free society, even when they take political stands, seems to me to involve having their cake and eating it.

    Second, I worry about the equation of political protest with “Hooliganism, that is a gross violation of the public order manifested in patent contempt of society.” Obviously the peaceful protester who protests to make their society more democratic does not thereby display contempt for that society. To think that it does is to confuse the rulers (and church) with society itself. As I understand it, the use of hooliganism as a catch-all term with which to dismiss protest is a hangover from the Soviet period. We shouldn’t condone it just because the protest in this case takes a transgressive form. Nor, I agree, should we forget that public order laws are used strictly in this country too, even to catch out protesters (as in the Fortnum case – though I think the Guardianistas were equally outraged about that, so at least they don’t have double standards).

    Third (and here perhaps we lack common ground), I imagine that the defence of Pussy Riot by bien-pensants in the West is not un-related to their negative view (which I share) of Putin and Russian democracy. If one believes that regular avenues of dissent are not properly available, because elections are not free and fair, and orderly, peaceful political demonstrations are not allowed to proceed by the state, then more radical forms of protest become justifiable. For this reason, your line that Western supporters of Pussy Riot wouldn’t like it if they acted in the same way here may be beside the point: their protest has a justification in the Russian context which it would lack in (some) Western countries.

    • Dear Daniel,

      First of all welcome to the blog. It is wonderful to have you here. Thank you also for a very interesting set of questions.

      You make lots of interesting points. Let me go through them:

      1. If Pussy Riot were being prosecuted simply for making a political protest or for ridiculing and mocking the Patriarch they would have a complete defence that this was an infringement of their right of free speech safeguarded by Article 10(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights even if this was done in a church. I should say that Russia is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 10(1) is part of Russian law. What Pussy Riot are being prosecuted for is not that they criticised Putin or mocked the Patriarch but that they carried out an obscene parody of Christian ritual and worship in the Cathedral in a way that shocked and which was designed to shock Orthodox Christian believers.

      2. I read in the Evening Standard today that one of Pussy Riot’s supporters recently went into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and made a public prayer for Putin’s removal identical to the one in the “punk prayer” but with all the parodic elements removed. He was briefly arrested but quickly released since with the authorities saying that he had committed no crime. What he has done is made the prosecution’s point and provided further ammunition to the prosecution if the case ever goes to the European Court of Human Rights, which it might well do. Not for the first time Pussy Riot are being undermined by their own supporters.

      3. Perhaps religious groups should be more tough minded about this sort of thing and there is always a question of whether it is right for the law to give protection to the feelings of religious believers. In France all such protections were abolished at the time of the French Revolution. Recently not just in Russia but in Britain and elsewhere in Europe they have been creeping back. Like you I am far from sure that this is a good thing but that is the law in Britain as well as in Russia and as I said in my post there is nothing in the European Convention of Human Rights that says that is wrong. Since it is the law the authorities have a duty to enforce it, which is what they are trying to do in this case. I would add that given the insult involved to believers and the way it was done the “punk prayer” would be a public order offence even if the religious element was removed from the offence though the offence would obviously in that case be far less serious.

      4. I don’t see the Russian offence of hooliganism set out in Article 213 as being obviously targeted at political protest. To me Article 213 simply looks like a catch all offence to cover offences against public order of exactly the same sort as the Public Order Act 1986. As you correctly say public order offences are used against protesters here. The offence of which Pussy Riot is accused looks to me much more serious than the Fortnum offence if only because of the element of premeditation (it was obviously planned in advance) and because of the way Pussy Riot themselves publicised it by uploading the film of it onto YouTube.

      5. As for your third point, I have explained what I think is the insuperable difficulty. There have been lots of demonstrations against Putin in Russia many of which were going on at the time when the Pussy Riot protest was underway, which were conducted peacefully. It is simply not possible to say that peaceful demonstrations against Putin are impossible. Similarly the Russian press is full of criticism of Putin often of a vituperative and abusive nature far beyond anything that would be tolerated here. Other contributors to this post who regularly read the Russian press and some of whom live in Russia can confirm that this is so but if you wish you can access the English language versions of Russian newspapers and websites published in Russia such as Moscow Times, Novaya Gazeta and Gazeta.Ru to see this for yourself. Pussy Riot have made lots of criticisms of Putin in previous performances and were attracting lots of attention without facing these sort of charges. I simply cannot see that they are therefore in a position to argue that they were obliged to protest against Putin in the way they did in the Cathedral in order to make their point.

      6. Your third point however hits the nail on the head. The reason so many people in the west support Pussy Riot is because of their negative opinion of Putin and of the Russian government. To my mind that says more about how such strongly held negative opinions can cloud clear judgement than it says about the case itself.

    • If one believes that in Russia regular avenues of dissent are not properly available, because elections are not free and fair, and orderly, peaceful political demonstrations are not allowed to proceed by the state, then one would be mistaken.

  16. I hope people will not mind if I introduce a light comment into what has been a very serious discussion.

    I notice that Tolokonnikova on the last day of the trial was wearing a T shirt with the Spanish slogan “No Pasaran” (“they shall not pass”). These of course were the words said in a speech made on 18th July 1936 during the Spanish Civil War by the famous Spanish revolutionary and Communist Dolores Ibarruri Gomez (“La Pasionaria”). She was of course a militant atheist and a leader in a revolutionary government famous for its anti clericalism and sacking of churches. Did anyone tell Tolokonnikova that?

    • It’s the same kind of irony whereby supporters of super-capitalist oligarchs like Khodorkovsky go around wearing T-shirts with Che Guevara’s face on them.
      Oi…. :(

  17. However if pushed I would say that this probably is a case of hooliganism under Article 213…

    Uff, finally. Thanks.

    I think what Peter doesn’t realise is that the difference between us and him is actually very small.

    Well, small or not, the difference is very clear. Article 213-б explicitly requires some sort of hatred/enmity as motive — and unlike you, I just can’t see anything remotely like it here.

    • Article 213-a also requires use of weaponry or objects used as weaponry. On this point, for example, see http://www.ukrf.net/s213.html

      1. Уголовная ответственность за хулиганские действия предусмотрена только в тех случаях, когда применяется оружие или предметы, используемые в качестве оружия. Посягательства на личность во время хулиганских действий, если побои или вред здоровью причинены без применения оружия или предметов, используемых в качестве оружия, квалифицируются как преступления против личности, где хулиганские побуждения выступают в качестве квалифицирующего признака.

      My quick translation:
      1. Criminal liability for hooliganism is considered only in those cases when weaponry or objects used as weaponry is applied. Attacks on a person during acts of hooliganism if the assault or harm to health is inflicted without the use of weaponry or objects used as weaponry are qualified as crimes against the person where the hooliganistic motives act as a qualifying criterion.

      • Dear Bill,

        I am getting different translations of the wording of the Article. Please remember I do not speak Russian so I cannot confirm any of this myself from the original source, which is the Article itself. I would make a few points:

        1. Firstly it is far from clear to me that your translation actually changes the position so very much in that it appears to make clear that even in the absence of weapons where the other elements of hooliganism exist there is a crime against the person.

        2. Having said this, as I said in the body of the post these are questions for the Russian courts to decide in accordance with Russian jurisprudence with which neither of us is familiar. If the defence wishes to argue these points either at the trial or on appeal then that is its right. If the absence of weapons provides a complete defence to a charge under Article 213 (which as I said even based on your translation I rather doubt) then the defence lawyers were actually under a duty to their clients to do so.

        3. Lastly, I would say again that If the question of weapons or the use of weapons is so important then I find it very surprising that this has not been given any attention in any article (even English language article) that I have read in the Russian press.

      • “…Russian jurisprudence with which neither of us is familiar.”

        Conclusions based on facile suppositions are not always correct. As a matter of fact, I do have some familiarity with Russian jurisprudence since 1993, much more experience with civil and family law than with criminal or labor law. In the civil area, I have spent more hours in Russian civil courts than I like to remember.

        On the question of weaponry and hooliganism, there is some ambiguity about the conjunction between a) and b) in part 1 of Article 213. One (strict) interpretation is that they are joined by “and” (specifying means and motives). Another interpretation is that they are joined by “or” (alternatively “violent” hooliganism or “hate crime” hooliganism). Law enforcement and prosecutors understandably favor the loose interpretation. Personally, I tend to favor the loose interpretation in view of the history and broader context. Specifically, point b) was added during a general modification adding “hate crime” provisions to many articles as part of a response to increasing incidents of extremism in Russia. On the other hand, I am not unaware of any recent conviction under Article 213 that did not involve a weapon or object used as a weapon. In Russian practice, proving a “hate” motive requires a psycholinguistic expert finding. It is also clear that being offensive is insufficient to establish a hate motive.

        Under the Russian Criminal Procedures Code, there are different classifications used by the criminal investigator before a person is tried in court: witness, suspect, and accused with increasing rights as the category progresses. For example, the accused has the right to become familiar with all the materials in the case file. When the judge denied the defense attorney’s request for the expert opinion in the spring, this was legal because the young lady was classified as a suspect at that time and was not an accused. To understand some of the news reports, you need some familiarity with the Russian procedural requirements. The terms customarily used in Russian procedure are commonly translated into English in a way that, in my opinion, can easily lead to misunderstanding. For example, in my opinion, the Russian procedural meaning of “accused” would be more properly translated as “indicted” in the usual legal usage in American English.

      • Dear Bill,

        Thank you for this very interesting discussion about points of Russian law and procedure all of which on the assumption that there will be a conviction will doubtless be argued out fully at appeal.

        If I understand you correctly you also tend to favour the view that weapons are not a necessary part of the offence, which is not to say of course that this is the case or that it should be the case in this case? Also when you say that a “psycholinguistic report” is required as a matter of practice do you mean that it is required as a matter of law? If not then it would appear that the Court has discretion, which is frankly what I would have expected. In any event as I understand it there is a “psycholinguistic report” in the evidence the defence’s complaint or objection being that the expert or experts who prepared it were not called.

        As a matter of curiosity do you know how many prosecutions for this sort of thing take place in Russia? There must surely have been quite a few by now and one would suppose that there must be a fair amount of jurisprudence in existence.

        PS: If you have been involved in Russian family cases then judging by some of the Russian couples I have met you have my complete sympathy.

      • Dear Alexander,
        Last shall be first: Thanks for the PS. I get a good laugh every time I think of it.

        As a matter of fact, my small familiarity with Russian family law is of two forms. First, when it appeared that I would become part of a Russian family in the mid 1990s, I purchased and read all the Russian Marriage and Family Code, simply to be familiar with Russian law in the matter and not be subject to unexpected surprises resulting from acting based on my American experience. And then I had involvement in child custody disputes with court hearings over several years in the late 1990s as an interested party (my wife was previously married).

        “If I understand you correctly you also tend to favour the view that weapons are not a necessary part of the offence, which is not to say of course that this is the case or that it should be the case in this case?” Yes, my personal opinion is that it should be read as “using a weapon OR with a hate motive.”

        Regarding the requirement of an expert opinion to establish a hate motive, I will try to research this and respond later.

        “…how many prosecutions for this sort of thing take place in Russia?” From a 2010 dissertation for a candidate of legal sciences degree (a Russian candidate degree is roughly comparable to an American doctoral degree): В 1993 г. количество зарегистрированных преступлений по ст. 206 УК РСФСР в целом по России составляло 158,3 тыс. (выявлено 19 тыс. лиц, их совершивших), в 2003 г. по ст. 213 УК РФ – 114,1 тыс. (84,8 тыс. лиц); а к началу 2009 г. – 13,6 тыс. (5,6 тыс. лиц), что на 66,7 % меньше по сравнению с аналогичным периодом 2008 г. In 1993 under the old Soviet law 158.3 thousand cases (committed by 19 thousand people); in 2003 under the Russian law, 114.1 throusand (84.8 thousand people); and to the beginning of 2009 13.6 thousand (5.6 thousand people), which is 66.7& less compared with the analogous period of 2008. Further, Как видно из данных официальной статистики, в последние годы хулиганство имеет стойкую тенденцию к снижению. Казалось бы, законодательными и превентивными мерами удалось добиться значительного сокращения данного вида преступности в структуре общеуголовной преступности.
        К сожалению, это не так. Снижение зарегистрированного хулиганства в большей мере связано с изменениями в диспозиции ст. 213 УК РФ, внесенными Федеральными законами Российской Федерации от 8 декабря 2003 г. № 162 и от 24 июля 2007 г. № 211 Briefly, it would seem that there is a steady reduction and that legislative and preventive measures have achieved a significant reduction. Unfortunately, the reduction in reported hooliganism is mostly associated with changes in the law in December 2003 and July 2007.
        http://law.edu.ru/book/book.asp?bookID=1370283

        From http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/b11_01/IssWWW.exe/Stg/d12/3-6.htm
        there were 5.6 thousand cases of hooliganism (out of 2404.8 thousand total cases) in 2011 (search for хулиганство on that page). Unfortunately, the English version of that site http://www.gks.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosstat/rosstatsite.eng/ doesn’t break out hooliganism separately. See http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/b11_12/IssWWW.exe/stg/d01/11-01.htm and http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/b11_12/IssWWW.exe/stg/d01/11-04.htm .

      • My interpretation of the paragraph is that, in the commission of hooliganism, weapons are optional.

      • Dear Yalensis,

        I think that is the emerging consensus amongst us keeping in mind that it is the Russian Courts not us that will decide this question. See Bill’s comment, which I he actually made before yours but which I only approved later.

        PS: Apologies for that Bill. I am technically useless. If I knew how I would give you automatic clearance right away. I suppose there is a way. Before long you should it acquire it.

      • Dear Bill,

        Thank you for being prepared to do all this hard and interesting work. Thank you also for sharing it with us.

        As you may have gathered I am circulating my post to a number of people here including several journalists, Church leaders, lawyers etc. I have already in my various introductions (these are individual letters) drawn my addressees to what I think has been the quite outstanding quality of comments to this post. What I propose to do in the light of your research is to mention that you are checking into the question of expert evidence and to ask them to look out for the results of your research. Whilst it does not I think touch on the underlying point I am trying to make in my post, which is that this is a public order case and should be treated as such, it is an interesting and procedurally important point especially if the case goes to appeal and one which for the sake completeness my addressees should be made aware you are researching.

      • Article 213-a also requires use of weaponry or objects used as weaponry.

        The relation between п. а) and п. б) is OR, no two ways about it.

        1. Уголовная ответственность за хулиганские действия предусмотрена только в тех случаях, когда применяется оружие или предметы, используемые в качестве оружия…

        That’s a badly misleading page: the current text of the article is followed by a commentary to the old pre-2007 version where there was no п. б).

      • Dear Peter,

        I should have anticipated that you would be the one to take a contrarian view on this question. Do you happen to know whether the defence team has made a point of this question? I ask this because I honestly do not know.

      • Dear Peter,

        Apologies, on re reading your comment again it struck me that perhaps I perhaps misunderstand you and that you too think that weapons are exclusive to the offence.

      • Thank you Peter and Bill for clarifying that it’s OR.

        I suspected this was the key question and am pleased to see that it has been conclusively answered.

  18. @alexander, responding to above thread on “Crime and Punishment”

    In Britain Raskolnikov would definitely have been hanged.
    That goes without saying, since he committed a DOUBLE murder. He killed both Alyona AND Lizaveta.
    Now, if Raskolnikov had continued his murder spree and whacked the pious prostitute Sonia, he could have completed a criminal trifecta.
    Then Detective Porfiry would go on the hunt for this brutal serial killer. Eventually Raskolnikov, with the assistance of his trusty sidekick, Razumikhin, uses Porfiry’s own psychological blather against him and lures the detective into a clever trap. Raskolnikov then whacks Porfiry and eats his brain, thus proving that he IS an Ubermensch.. (ALT-ending)

    • Dear Yalensis,

      Brilliant!

      Reading your comments and Anatoly’s previously it suddenly struck me what a very Russian case the Pussy Riot case in some ways is. I am trying to imagine a British group who did something similar referring back to British intellectuals such as say as Dickens or the Bronte sisters in self explanation. Bluntly I think this is impossible. If they tried anything like no way would they be taken seriously. It might happen in France or possibly even the US (though in the US I very much doubt it) but it surely wouldn’t happen here. Perhaps given that the women from Pussy Riot arguably suffer from the same sort of confused over intellectual thinking that muddled Raskolnikov perhaps what this case needed was a Porfiry Petrovitch acting for the prosecution (with all his brain working).

      You are of course absolutely right that anyone committing a double murder in nineteenth century Britain would definitely have been hanged.

  19. The said penal code 213 is explicitly meant for armed disturbances (…AND attended by the use of weapons or articles used as weapons…). It is obvious from all evidence no such weapons have been used by Pussy Riot.

    • Dear Nog1,

      This question has now been discussed exhaustively. I don’t agree that Article 213 is “explicitly meant for armed disturbances” and the view shared by everyone else writing for this post is that weapons or articles used as weapons are not an essential part of the offence.

      • More specifically, an amendment to Article 213 in the Criminal Code in 2003 restricted criminal hooliganism to disturbances involving the use of weapons or objects used as weapons (exactly as Nog1 indicated). Subsequently, another amendment in 2007 added an ALTERNATIVE qualifying characteristic, briefly, “OR motivated by hate.” This, for example, is clear from one of the appeal decisions cited in my prior comment analyzing the requirement for an “expert opinion” in establishing the existence of a hate motive.

        A lengthy discussion (in Russian) can be found at http://all-books.biz/ugolovnoe-pravo-uchebnik/statya-213-huliganstvokommentariy-state.html (“Article 213. Hooliganism Commentary to Article 213″ in A.V. Brilliantov. Commentary to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, 2011).

    • Human arms and fingers are weapons too. So if the law was to restrict criminality to only cases where knives, guns or sticks are present it would be an ass.

      Also people ignore the fact that under the law, previous convictions count against you during a trial. So the Vagina Thugs thought they would get away forever with their law breaking and get slaps on the wrist. But it doesn’t work that way and there is *accumulation* of incidents that work against the perpetrators. The “rap sheet” effect.

  20. Pingback: There Is Always More » NFTU

  21. Thanks very much for this post, and for the factual information you have provided.
    I very much doubt, however that the misapprehensions and disinformation of the Western media will be influenced by knowledge of the facts. What matters here is not so much the facts themselves, but the cultural spectacles through which the facts are perceived. There is also the point, made by many Russian Orthodox Christians, that the prosecution and the judge did more damage to Orthodoxy than the actions of Pussy Riot themselves (one described it as a “monstrous provocation”) — see Pussy Riot — the verdict | Khanya.

    • Dear Steve,

      As to there being any possibility that the flood of “misapprehensions and disinformation of the Western media” can be influenced by mere knowledge of the facts, the short answer is there is no chance of it. As William Randolph Hearst might have said, the Western media is not going to let mere facts get in the way of a good story.

      As to Orthodoxy, I wouldn’t be too worried. The Orthodox Church has existed for either one thousand years (if you date its creation to its final split with the Papacy) or two thousand if you go as it does back to Christ. In that time it has seen off wars, invasions, foreign conquests and revolutions. It will certainly survive Pussy Riot.

    • Pandering to the west and its hate will not save Russia or the Church. Worrying about bad optics when the optics are all generated by lies and insinuations is quite pointless. The Vagina Thugs broke the law and they got punished. No exceptions can be made for optics.

      The same can be said for the Khodorkovsky case. Khodorkovsky was busy trying to launder himself into some sort of big democratic politician. So was he supposed to be let off just because of the bad optics (generated by the lying western media)? Sorry but such pandering would destroy the function of the law. The west will find an infinite reasons to hate Russia and the facts never stand in the way of their hate spew.

  22. On the Pussy Riot business my view is these women deliberately set out to provoke the authorities into overeacting in order to raise their profile and become martyrs for the opposition to Putin. When they come out of jail they will have succeeded in becoming international celebrities and can take their band on a tour of the West where they will be received with open arms by the music industry and the media as heroic dissidents who stood up against the tyrant Putin. This incident has given the opposition an issue and a symbol to unite around. They will all be wearing their balaclavas at the next mass demonstration in the autumn. Three highly offensive and utterly talentless members of a punk band unknown to anyone outside the bohemian fringe of Moscow now have a lucrative and glittering career ahead of them. It’s all worked out very nicely for them.

    The authorities should have resisted being provoked into playing their game and called for no more than a thumping fine and community service. Given the media bias in the West against Putin they and their allies in the liberal opposition were going to make hay with this from the moment the women were charged.

    Best case scenario would be if Putin exercised clemency and pardoned them before the case is appealed to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If I were their lawyers I would appeal under Article 10 right of free expression thereby keeping the issue in the public eye.

    Alex believes that the way the girls defence lawyers handled the case was detrimental to their clients interests and was always likely to lead to a longer sentence. I suspect that they were trying to politicise the case for maximum affect right from the start and didn’t care whether this would lead to a longer sentence and it’s quite likely the girls were in full agreement with this strategy.

    • Dear Robert,

      Speaking as someone who also thinks that the right punishment for this sort of crime is “community service and a thumping fine” I have to nonetheless point out what the difficulty in all this is. Under the Russian constitution Putin cannot pardon the Pussy Riot defendants unless they admit their guilt and ask for pardon, which they have said they will not do. Were the Pussy Riot defendants to reverse themselves and admit their guilt and ask for pardon I have no doubt Putin would pardon them. The trouble is that the supporters of the Pussy Riot defendants would be bound to see this as a betrayal. This is yet another example of how the Pussy Riot defendants are now becoming victims of their own supporters and of their supporters’ expectations.

      As I said in response to your comment on Anatoly Karlin’s blog I am sure you are right and I am sure the Pussy Riot defendants did support the strategy that the defence adopted. Judging from the speeches they gave at the end of the trial and at their demeanour throughout the trial they are currently on a high, revelling in all the attention. The attention will fade, the Revolution will not take place, the European Court of Human Rights will uphold the verdict (there being no reason why it should not) and at the end of it all the three Pussy Riot defendants will still be in prison and in the case of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina separated from their children. At that point reality will kick in with a thump. I know what I am talking about. I have seen this sort of thing happen. When it does happen they may not look so gratefully upon the way their lawyers defended the case.

      Lastly, on the subject of the damage done to Russia’s image, one should first of all not make the mistake of confusing liberal opinion in the west with world opinion. The vast majority of people around the world (including many people in the west) are to a greater or lesser extent religious. Especially given its recent history it would have been far more damaging to Russia’s international image if it had failed to act in a way that showed that it is prepared to act decisively to protect the freedom and sanctity of the act of worship. As for the west, liberal opinion there has once again manoeuvred itself into supporting criminality as it did in the Khodorkovsky case and in the Browder/Magnitsky case and has moreover done so in a manner that many around the world are going to see as anti religious. It has also created for itself a public order problem with many people in the west not realising that the things that Pussy Riot did are also illegal in the west. There have already been some absurd incidents including one reported today in the French city of Marseilles where a group of young people donned balaclavas in support of Pussy Riot only to be promptly arrested by the French police for breaching Sarkozy’s ban on face covering.

      • Thanks for the reply Alex. Disappointed that there seems no chance of pardon although the experience of prison and the desire to be reunited with their children will make the women think again. It would be seen as a betrayal by their supporters though

        Isn’t there a case for ECHR under Article 10 (1) or (2) I know the defence botched the case and implicitly admitted guilt but the incompetence of their lawyers shouldn’t preclude an appeal should it?

        Looking back at my post it does come across as rather heartless. I deplore what the women did but they’ve been hit far too hard for it. Prison is no joke with appalling bullying going on even in UK jails and I suspect Russian prisons are considerably worse. There’s a danger that hardened criminals with a superstitous fear of Orthodoxy will have fun victimising these upper middle class intellectual girls

  23. Достали уже с этими дурацкими Пусями!!! Если человек станет ср…, простите какать, посреди тротуара, то он хулиган. А если он при этом будет орать против властей, он что теперь политический? Нифига! Не важно, что он при этом кричит, важен факт, что испражняется посреди улицы! Поэтому даже если бы эти Пуси ни слова не сказали, они должны были бы быть наказаны, за то, что нагадили в души верующих!
    На стороне большинства быть легко! Все кричат в защиту и толпа тупо тоже кричит. А мозги включать когда люди научатся? Ведь защищать здесь надо не Пусей, а подрастающее поколение от влияния подобных беспринципных девиц, которым ничего не стоит задирать ноги в церкви. Повели б они себя так в мечети разговоров бы не было вообще, не за кого было бы уже заступаться. Поэтому они подло пошли туда, где их не обидят, где они могут делать гадости безнаказанно, как они надеялись! Верующие простят, но закон для всех один! И если человек гадит посреди улицы, он должен нести ответственность за свои поступки!

  24. Pingback: Pussy Riot vs Julian Assange – to each his own hero and villain         :    Information Clearing House: ICH | Faktensucher

  25. yeah i guess this means Anna Poltkovskaya was not killed, I guess that Litvinenko was not poisoned, I guess that Putin didn’t destroy the independent media, I guess that Russia is not really listed amongst the most dangerous place for journalists, I guess that the thousand and thousands of pages of ink spilled over these abuses, violences, mistreatments, rapes, murders, thefts, injustices, cheats, abrogations, and misuses of power did not happen, and that, of course, we should forget all of them, and instead worry about the moral collapse of people who stuff chicken in their vagina.

    I am glad you hae the strength to anlayze the real problems in modern society, like Penis paintings and Chicken Vaginas, instead of mass theft, mass murder, the infiltration of the executive branch into the supposedly independent court system, the commingling of the church and the state, and wholesale destruction of civil society.

    • Dear Decora,

      Thank you for your comment.

      My post is not about Mr. Putin’s crimes real or imagined or about Politkovskaya or Litvinenko. For the record Politkovskaya’s alleged murderers will be going on trial soon and the inquest into Litvinenko’s death is still underway. I prefer to wait until these legal proceedings are concluded before rushing to any conclusions about either case. As for the independence of the Russian media, as someone who reads it frequently in its English language versions I can find no evidence of any absence of independence in it. On the contrary in my experience it has a much wider range of opinion than does the British or American press. The Pussy Riot case is a case in point with the Russian media divided on the subject and some sections of it writing things about the case that are every bit as critical as anything you will read in the US or Britain.

      Nor am I in the slightest bit interested in moralising about this case or about Voina or Pussy Riot or in making moral judgements generally. All that does is cloud understanding of the actual issues in the case. I would say that by far the bulk of the moralising that has been going on in connection with the Pussy Riot case is being done by Pussy Riot’s supporters and frankly I think your comment is another example.

      The purpose of my post was simply to show that the case that was brought against Pussy Riot was for the prosecution of an actual crime that was actually committed and which would be prosecuted as a crime in exactly the same way if it happened in Britain or in any other European country. I do not see what Mr. Putin’s crimes real or imagined have to do with this and to my mind it simply confuses the issues in the case to drag Mr. Putin into it.

    • Dear Frank,

      As I have said before, who was the woman who was involved in the chicken episode is contentious. In my opinion it was Alyokhina but the point is unimportant.

      This was not a case of merely misbehaving in a church. It was a serious public order offence. I do not think it deserves a prison term and as I hope I have made clear I personally deplore the practice of sending people to prison for such offences. Countries that you consider “civilised” however think differently from me. If anybody had been tried for such a crime in any other European country they too would have received a prison term.

      • Did you actually look at the photos? There’s no way it’s Alyokhina, unless she’s had a nosejob.

        If you’d done your research on Voina you’d know that Verzilov and Tolokonnikova split from founders Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalya Sokol in 2009 and are no longer on speaking terms. The chicken video is from 2010, post-split. Natalya Sokol can be seen in the video wearing a blue tank top; the identity of the blonde woman is unknown.

        There is, in fact, no evidence that Alyokhina was ever involved in Voina.

      • Dear Frank,

        In any event to deal with your points:

        1. I am fully aware of the supposed split in Voina that supposedly took place in 2009. I touched on the fact in my post when I alluded to a statement on the subject supposedly be Voina that I read on the internet, which even denied that Tolokonnikova had ever been a member of Voina and which accused her of trying to take Voina over.

        2. I treat all such claims (which I have seen contradicted elsewhere) with utter skepticism as one should treat any such claims made by or about two organisations both of which make a point of practising illegality and which in the case of Pussy Riot at least tries to operate to some extent in secret with members even seeking to keep their identities secret from each other. In any event as Pussy Riot themselves made clear in their interview they endorse what they say was the earlier more radical phase of Voina, which suggests that if they have an issue with Voina it is because they do not think it is radical enough.

        3. As for Alyokhina I have already given you my opinion. As it happens I have an eyesight problem (a fact I mentioned in response to another comment) and I cannot see film clearly. However others who have seen the film and who I have consulted are sure it is her. The point in itself is unimportant since Alyokhina was tried for what happened in the Cathedral, not for what happened during the chicken incident.

      • Dear Alexander,

        If your eyesight prevents you from examining the photos, then I submit that you are unqualified to have an “opinion” on the identity of the woman in the chicken video.

        I also consider it relevant that in advancing your argument you resorted to slandering Ms. Alyohkina (while covering yourself legally with words like “apparently”, of course).

        As I said, there is no evidence that Alyokhina was ever involved in Voina; her background is in environmental activism and charity work (including charities run by the Russian Orthodox Church). She has stated that she still considers herself a Christian, but is upset with Patriarch Kirill’s close relationship with Putin.

        Reuters photojournalist Tom Peter, in his profile of Voina, states that he never met Alyokhina during his time with Voina.

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/16/us-blog-pussy-riots-idUSBRE87F0PW20120816

        Of all the Pussy Riot members on trial, Alyokhina seems to me the most fundamentally decent, and certainly the least likely to insert foreign objects into herself as some kind of political statement.

        As far as the Voina split goes, I neither believe nor disbelieve the specific allegations made by the different factions, but whatever the truth is it’s clear that they hate each other. The original Voina go out of their way to distance themselves from Verzilov, and have been silent on the Pussy Riot case, preferring to campaign for other political prisoners such as Taisia Ostipova.

        The Pussy Riot members are associated with Verzilov, making it highly unlikely that any of them had any part in the actions performed by the “original” Voina since 2009. This includes the chicken stealing, the bridge painting and the vandalism of police cars.

        It follows, too, that your assertion that Pussy Riot and Voina are one and the same is inccorect.

      • Dear Frank,

        Alyokhina has found in you quite a champion.

        My comment in the post was based not on the film, which I can only see to a limited degree, but primarily on an article I found on the internet that appeared to originate with Voina and which positively identified Alyokhina as the woman involved in the chicken incident. When I fwent to create the link I found the article had disappeared, which is why I qualified my comment with the word “apparently”. This sort of thing with Voina goes on all the time and of course it is possible that not all that is written about Voina and which is attributed to Voina is actually written by Voina or even by factions within Voina. I notice by the way that the identity of the woman in the chicken incident is now being transferred around so that the latest Wikipedia article says it is Natalia Sokol on the basis of an article that does not in fact identify the woman as Natalia Sokol, another article has indentified the woman as a quite different woman and there are as you say now other claims that the identity of the woman is “unknown”.

        All of this and Voina’s internal feuds are of little interest to me. If you forgive me saying so, I think you are falling into the trap of seeking to defend Alyokhina’s role in the “punk prayer” by denying her role in the quite separate chicken incident, which is not of course the crime for which she was tried. There was nothing decent about the “punk prayer” and to refer to a person who was involved in the “punk prayer” as “decent” seems to me to be stretching it,

      • Dear Frank,

        Just to add one further minor point, I notice the latest Wikipedia article on Voina positively identifies Samutsevitch as a member of Voina (calling her an “activist”) and as participating in Voina activities in 2010 after the supposed split. This incident involved the release of Madagascan cockroaches in a court room in order to disrupt court proceedings.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voina

        As I said all this is of little interest to me as is Verzilov’s precise role. The connections between all of these people and their internal feuds and quarrels is hardly a matter of great importance. Their embrace of a culture of illegality is.

  26. What about the Peter Tatchell case? He heckled the Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral but as far as I recall he wasn’t prosecuted for it. Maybe the difference is he didn’t use scatalogical language and the establishment in Britian is fully supportive of gay rights with Christianity being marginal in the UK

    • Dear Robert,

      The fundamental difference between what Peter Tatchell did and what Pussy Riot did is not that just that Peter Tatchell did not use scatological language which Pussy Riot did but that Peter Tatchell did not express his criticism of the Archbishop by staging an obscene parody of the act of Christian worship using scatological and abusive language about the Archbishop in a performance in the Archbishop’s own Cathedral. Whatever one may think of Peter Tatchell (and as it happens I think a lot of him) he is a thoroughly seasoned and experienced political campaigner who understands exactly where the boundaries of socially and legally acceptable protest are.

      To repeat, Pussy Riot have a right to criticise the Patriarch and Putin. They are even entitled to do that inside a church. If they had merely done that they would have had a complete defence under Article 10(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights. Unfortunately what they did went far beyond that.

  27. Dear Alex

    Thanks for the article and the extensive information about the case.

    It is indeed true that also western laws punish such actions with a term of inprisonment that may last 2 years or even more. But I think you are forgertting something very important: in the vast majority of the western countries, for short sentences up to 2 years of prison, you don’t go to jail if you have no previous criminal records.

    Or can you quote me at least a similar case of 2 years of inprisonment for offending the religious feelings?

    No need to say that remaining in prison up to 5 months is like applying a term of inprisonment to a case which in western countries is only used in cases of terrorism.

    Also some people have been arrested for protesting against the sentence. ¿Which is the alleged crime here?

    • Dear Guillermo,

      I cannot speak about every country but it is certainly not the practice here in Britain that people convicted for an offence that carries a sentence of up to 2 years do not go to prison if they have no history of previous convictions. I have been involved in several cases myself in Britain where people have been kept in detention for several months before trial and where the court has refused bail. It is simply wrong to say that in western countries this is only done in cases of terrorism.

      Having said this you do touch on an important point. If you have read my post carefully you will see that in my opinion if the case had been defended properly the probable sentence would only have been a short gaol sentence or even a suspended sentence and that the defendants would be free by now. The trouble is the case was not defended properly. The defendants took 6 months before they unequivocally admitted to what they had done and offered a (very partial and qualified) apology and then they only made matters worse for themselves by their arrogant and contemptuous manner and the complete lack of contrition they showed during the trial. This has earned them heaps of applause from their supporters but if the objective was to avoid a lengthy prison sentence it was totally the wrong approach.

      As to cases in other countries involving comparable sentences, I am going to discuss this point in a follow up post I am now working on.

      Lastly, on the subject of the arrests of the people who have protested against the sentence, these will have been carried out in the overwhelming majority of cases by the police exercising the general power the police always have to carry out arrests to prevent a possible breach of the peace. These are actions the police take under their general or as the Russians would say under their administrative powers. Such arrests very rarely result in charges or prosecutions and the the persons who are arrested are quickly released.

    • No need to say that remaining in prison up to 5 months is like applying a term of inprisonment to a case which in western countries is only used in cases of terrorism.

      Counter-example: Manning has already been kept in pretrial detention for 800 days. (The legal limit I believe is 120 days).

      • Bradley Manning, accused of handing over thousands of documents containing secrets of State, represents the biggest leak of information in all history, causing a serious damage to the security of many states. Compared to a group of russian teenagers jumping and dancing in a church whose damage consists basically in hurting religious feelings and criticising the president of Russia. Good comparison.

      • Irrelevant. Manning isn’t going to be arraigned on terrorism charges.

        Which part of what you yourself wrote, “… which in western countries is only used in cases of terrorism“, do you not get?

        Try again.

  28. P.S. I mean of course, remaining 5 months in prison before trial without any final judgement. I cannot remember any similar case in no democratic country for a case of public scandal or can you cite me at least one?

    • Dear Guillermo,

      I understood your point and I think I have already touched on it.

      As I said before I have been personally involved in numerous such cases. There is generally a right to bail or release before trial but in Britain at least the Court always considers whether it should be denied in a specific case. If the Court feels that if released the defendant might try to escape or go into hiding or commit more crimes or intimidate the prosecution’s witnesses then in cases where someone is being tried for a crime that carries a possible prison sentence the Court would normally refuse bail. Examples are so numerous that it would be pointless to cite individual cases but amongst cases of which I have individual knowledge and in I was involved where bail was refused I can think of cases of (minor) theft, assault, murder (obviously) and criminal damage as well as one very serious motoring offence. If the defendant is acquitted at the trial the Court awards the defendant compensation for the time the defendant has spent in prison before trial. As I discussed in my post given the circumstances I think it was unavoidable that the Court would refuse bail in this case.

      • Dear Alex,

        Being imprisoned before trial is a too wide topic. As you mentioned you can go to jail before trial in cases of assault, in cases minor thefts or big thefts, murder etc. In Spain where I life it is quite similar especially for crimes committed with violence or thefts of considerable sums beyond a certain amount of money (the judge will impose a very high bail if the sum is very big). And of course in cases of terrorism.

        But let’s be more concrete: in the case of a public performance, and here I emphasize, without violence over things and without violence over people, that is, simply making a public performance that offends the people’s religious feelings: 5 months of preventive prison for that? and following to that a sentence of 2 years of jail? Let me tell you that this is extremely hard to believe even in Britain. In Spain I can say without no doubt that this is not the case.

        You said you were involved in many similar cases (public scandal without violence?) and with such a long term of preventive prison? With people convicted to such long terms? Really?? . . As far as law practices in the European Union don’t differ dramatically, I would be very surprised if you tell me that the practices in Britain are like those of Russia for this concrete case. I simply don’t believe it.

      • Dear Guillermo,

        If you are not prepared to believe what I say then in a sense there is very little point in my responding to you.

        Anyway, I can definitely say that people can be refused bail in Britain for offences that do not involve injury to persons or theft to property or criminal damage. As I have said before I have personal experience of such cases. In my previous comment I set out the criteria the Court would follow when deciding whether or not to refuse bail. In spite of what you say I suspect the same is also true in Spain. It most definitely is in the US as I can also say from personal knowledge.

        The Pussy Riot defendants will not serve 2 years on top of the 5 months they have served in pre trial detention. The 5 months they have already spent in prison will be deducted from their prison sentence.

        I think where you and others go wrong is in that you do not appreciate the severity with which the law in most countries now treats public order offences. As I have said, this is something I deplore but that is the reality in the world today. In Britain there was a recent case where a student was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment for urinating on a war memorial whilst drunk during a political rally. He was let out early but then unlike the Pussy Riot defendants he publicly acknowledged what he did and made an unequivocal apology for it. Another factor in securing his early release was surely that he is the son of a famous rock musician. By any measure this was a much less serious crime than the one in the Pussy Riot case if only because there was no suggestion that it was planned in advance or that it was undertaken by the student as part of an organised group. If he had been involved in an organised group and had planned the offence in advance and had sought to go into hiding after the offence was committed and had initially refused to admit to his involvement in the crime and had after admitting to his involvement in the crime acted with the same arrogance and lack of contrition that the Pussy Riot defendants have shown during their trial then his sentence would certainly have been longer, he would not have been released early and he would certainly have been refused bail before the trial.

        I would also say that where I think you are also going seriously wrong is in describing the “punk prayer” as a “performance”. This is similar to the Amnesty International’s claim that it was a “gig in a church”. This completely misunderstands and misrepresents what the “punk prayer” was all about. It was not a mere “performance” that happened to offend people’s religious sensibilities. The defendants themselves admit it was an act of protest rather than just a “performance”. What it in fact was was an obscene parody of the act of Christian worship carried out in Russian Orthodoxy’s most important church, which abused Russian Orthodoxy’s leader the Patriarch in scatological language in his own Cathedral. As such it was prosecuted under Article 213 as a religious hate crime, which is what the Court not unreasonably decided that it was.

  29. “Compared to a group of russian [sic] teenagers jumping and dancing In a church…”

    Dear Guillermo,

    None of the convicted Pussy Riot members are “teenagers”: they are all mature women, the eldest of them being thirty years of age, the youngest twenty-two.

    • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova 23, Maria Aliokhina 24 and Ekaterina Samutsevich 30.
      The age changes nothing in my previous argument when comparing Manning to PR.

      • Dear Guillermo,

        Your persistence on this issue is admirable but I am afraid it is in vain. Having checked the position in Spain I understand that it is in fact almost exactly the same as it is in Britain, the US and Russia. It seems that in Spain prisoners are only released on bail before trial if the Instructing Judge is satisfied (1) that the accused will not use bail as an opportunity to evade justice and (2) that the accused will meet the requirements of the legal authorities to appear in court at the appropriate time.

        Based on this I am sure that the defendants in the Pussy Riot case would have been refused bail in Spain. This is an offence with a possible prison sentence, which was carried out by defendants with a previous history of law breaking who carried out the crime while in disguise, who immediately went into hiding after the crime was committed and who refused to cooperate with the authorities when they were arrested. Given this history how could a Court be sure if they were granted bail that they would not flee and go into hiding again?

        As I discussed in my post there might have been a legitimate fear given the international attention the case had attracted that the defendants might flee abroad or go to a foreign embassy. Only a year before in a different case a member of Voina called Vorotnikov with whom Tolokonnikova has been associated did go into hiding after being granted bail by a Court. The Russian authorities even issued an international warrant for his arrest. As it turned out Vorotnikov never left Russia but was arrested following another incident when he is accused of assaulting a policeman during a political rally. This shows that the Russian authorities do have fears that these sort of defendants might flee abroad if given the opportunity to do so. Based on what Konstantin von Eggert says a Danish diplomat said to him, that a grant of political asylum to the Pussy Riot defendant would be automatic if they ever did flee to the west, this fear is legitimate.

        Bear also in mind the consistent contempt the Pussy Riot defendants have shown for the whole system of justice. This extends to Tolokonnikova disrupting a court hearing in May 2009 together with Vorotnikov when she blared out a song with the help of an amplifier in a court room during a hearing, to Samutsevitch helping other members of Voina in July 2010 release 3,000 Madagascan cockroaches inside a court building and to Pussy Riot staging one of their impromptu concerts on the roof of a pre trial detention centre. Again I ask how in the light of all of this would it have been possible for the Court to be sure that if the Pussy Riot defendants were released on bail they would respect the legal proceedings sufficently to surrender themselves voluntarily to Court on the day of their trial? The short answer is that no Court whether in Britain, Russia, the US or Spain could ever be sure and if the same defendants were being tried for the same offence in any one of these countries I have absolutely no doubt that bail would be refused.

        If your concern is that the time the Pussy Riot defendants spent in detention before the trial was too long, then I would refer you again to my post in which I explained that the main reason for this was the misconceived tactics and incompetence of the defence. The original intention was to hold the trial in April, a month after the Pussy Riot defendants were arrested. If the defence had been conducted properly in what is actually a very simple case there is no reason why the case could not have been tried in April, in which case the amount of time the Pussy Riot defendants would have spent in pre trial detention would have been no more than a month.

        Let me finish with a general point about your comments. I would say again that where I think you are going wrong is that you persist in belittling both the nature of the offence that was committed and the defendants who committed it. As I said in response to your previous comment the “punk prayer” was certainly not a mere “performance”. Likewise your calling the defendants “teenagers” was (forgive me for saying so) a most revealing slip.

        Please put aside any idea that this is a case of a bunch of young people having a lark who are being tried for having a bit of fun because they caused some offence along the way. This was a carefully planned and staged provocation carried out by a group of hardened political activists who belong to a group with a culture of crime and law breaking. Once you understand this point then I think many of your misunderstandings about the case will disappear.

      • Guillermo,

        The trio and the rest of the group are professional rioters (they call themselves “Riot”); the fact that the previous instances of their anti-social behavior have not been taken seriously shows how much freedom of expression the Russians can swallow before they take disciplinary/criminal proceedings. The act in the Cathedral went too far. One example, Tolokonnikova’s child was often left alone on their computer table and fell down once at the age of 12-18 months. As a result the child suffered a serious injury – broken sculp, bruises and cerebral contusion. Tolokno should have been responsible for child neglect, actually. This is where the law in Russia is pretty lenient as well.

  30. Thank you for you thoughtful analysis and even-tempered responses.

    It strikes me that there is another important legal nuance to this case. In Russia the free exercise of religion is a *civil* right, whereas in some Western countries it is not.

    For example, the First Amendment to the American Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”) explicitly prohibits legislation concerning religious institutions. In practice this means that the freedom of religious of expression that most Americans benefit from most of the time is, in effect, an extension of their property rights. As Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter demonstrates in his book *The Culture of Disbelief* (Anchor Books, 1994), this helps explain why the American legal system often treats religious expression per se rather cavalierly, but gives it much greater deference when it is linked to the defence of one’s property.

    It is confusing to Americans to learn that Pussy Riot was charged with violating the civil rights of religious believers *as believers*, because this is a category of rights which American jurisprudence does not typically recognize.

    I wonder if you would agree with this?

    • Dear N. N. Petro,

      First of all thank you for your very kind words.

      You have touched on a very important point and one that the mass of commentary about this case has totally neglected but which I am to discuss in a follow up post I am preparing on the actual Judgment in the case. This is that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. It is defined as such in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which make it clear that freedom of religion extends to freedom to worship. In other words religious believers have a right to worship and to do so in peace and without disruption. This right gives rise to all sorts of issues and there is much more to say about it which (if you forgive me) I propose to discuss in detail in my next post. What I would say here is that though the law in the US does indeed differ from that in much of Europe because of the First Amendment in exactly the way that you say the US is nonetheless a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is therefore also bound by Article 18.

    • Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), is the case in which the United States Supreme Court found that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade. The parents’ fundamental right to freedom of religion outweighed the state’s interest in educating its children. How do you account for this ruling, devoid of any property rights? And by the way, if PRiot “performed” in an Amish Church, causing offence to the Amish community, what would be the reaction of the authorities?

      • Dear Telepath,

        I think I have explained what I suspect was the US Supreme Court’s reasoning in Wisconsin v Yoder in my previous response to N.N. Petro. Freedom of worship and religion is a fundamental human right and it is recognised as such in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Though I am in no sense an expert on US constitutional law, this is surely what lies behind the thinking of the Supreme Court in Wisconsin v Yoder. However N.N. Petro is also right when he says that under the First Amendment the US Congress is prevented from legislating in any way that makes for the “establishment of religion” and that this affects claims that can be brought by religious groups and institutions which tend as a result to fall in the US under the scope of general civil and commercial law and are for this reason property related. The issue in Wisconsin v Yoder did not however fall within general civil and commercial law since it involved a constitutional right exercised in accordance with the First Amendment.

        I don’t know what the legal position is in the various States of the US which have Amish communities but I strongly suspect that if an offence was committed in an Amish church similar to the one that was committed by Pussy Riot the authorities in the US would prosecute it. Doubtless the defendants would claim a defence under the First Amendment that they were exercising their right of free expression. However I have been told (though I am no expert on the point) that it is unlikely such a defence would apply.

      • Actually, the state of Wisconsin argued taking Amish children out of public schools would deny them future financial benefits. The court did not dispute this and in his dissent Justice William Douglas seemed to make much of this point, saying “He may want to be a pianist or an astronaut or an oceanographer. To do so he will have to break from the Amish tradition. It is the future of the students, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today’s decision.”

        The majority, however, held that the material benefits of an extra two years of mandatory public education were trivial. Would the same hold true for four years? six years? or twelve? Under Yoder, that would seem to depend on how much was at stake financially.

        I think my broader point therefore remains true. Legislation on religious tolerance in the United States is designed to prevent governments from infringing on religious practice. It is not designed to confer religious rights upon the people.

  31. Alexander,

    Your excellent analysis and report of the case are much appreciated, I take my hat off! Thank you.

  32. I am in awe of your intellect and reasoning, Alexander Mercouris. I don’t usually read such long blogs but I did yours including the comments.
    It is transparently obvious that the soundtrack to the pussy video was added later when you see the original video but it wasn’t until I put the two versions together on my blog that I realised that many of the shots were taken in another venue and that a man was singing the lead and the girls the responses. http://fitzhenrymac.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/pussy-riot/
    Fitz

  33. This is an awfully late comment, but I want to commend and thank you for your hard work and thorough analysis. I am sure that many other members of the Holy Orthodox Church feel the same.

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