Standort: / Meldung: "Free(d) Pussy Riot"

Charles Maynes Moscow

Journalist in Moscow

10. 10. 2012 - 18:39

Free(d) Pussy Riot

A Moscow appeals court freed Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich. What, you might wonder, changed?

The courtroom trappings all looked familiar: lawyers and prosecutors crowded behind desks two-sizes-too-small, the guards slouched against Kalashnikov rifles, and – of course – the glass aquarium, where three members of the punk band Pussy Riot again sat to deny charges that performance of anti-Kremlin "punk prayer" in a central Moscow church amounted to an attack against Russia's Orthodox church.

But, as you've by no doubt heard by now, today's court did offer something different.

Namely, the suspended sentence of Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, to two years probation. Nominally guilty, she is now free to go. Her bandmates, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, meanwhile, will serve out their full two-year sentences in Russian prison colonies for "hooliganism with the intent to incite religious hatred".

What, you might wonder, changed?

In today's ruling, judges said they were persuaded by arguments that Samutsevich had been detained by a security guard before she'd even unpacked her guitar, denying her the opportnity to participate in the act. Guilty but not as guilty, in other words. Oddly enough, it's an argument that held no merit in the previous trial. Strange, no?

Indeed, it appears that Samutsevich was rewarded for her decision to change lawyers – a move that delayed an appeal hearing earlier this month and set off rumors of a split among Pussy Riot members and their up-until-that-point united legal front.

The three members of that legal team – Violetta Volkova, Mark Feygin, and Anatoli Polozov – are well-known for representing Russians opposed to the Kremlin and it's primary occupant, President Vladimir Putin. Volkova was a regular at last spring's Occcupy movement in Moscow. Feygen has spoken pubicly at several large protest rallies this past year. All head up legal defense teams of opposition members facing various charges related to recent protests. Their combined efforts on behalf of Pussy Riot amounted to a team of opposition "legal eagles".

And that may have been the aim of today's ruling – to diminish the lawyers' public standing and sow division in the ranks.

Freed pussy riot activist

Photocredit: Yuri Timofeyev

Defense lawyer Anatoli Polozkov acknowledged as much in comments posted to his Twitter account, where he suggested if authorities were punishing the lawyers for their high-profile work with the opposition, he was ready to take the fall. "If that's what it takes to free Nadya (Tolokonnikova) and Katya (Alyokhina), I'll be the first to surrender my legal license."

Pussy Riot's Samutsevich, for her part, denied any falling out with band members in her statement to the court, adding that she'd switched lawyers in order to have her opinions more clearly articulated. She also – along with her bandmates – continued to maintain that the performance was political, not religious, in nature.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, notably, cheered and hugged when Samutsevich's suspended sentence was announced. Samutsevich left the court promising to comment on the fate of her bandmates in the coming days.

Of course, there was still one other witness hovering over today's court proceeding – namely, Vladimir Putin, the subject of the "punk prayer" itself. During a weekend TV special honoring his 60th birthday, Putin endorsed the court's initial 2-year sentence against Pussy Riot whole-heartedly, arguing that band members had asked for attention, and gotten it accordingly.

"It's right that they were arrested, it's right that the court took that decision, because you can't undermine the foundations of morality, our moral values, destroy the country. What would we be left with then?", said Putin.

References to Putin by band members during today's court appeal were not as welcomed. Judges repeatedly and quickly rejected references to Putin as irrelevent to the proceedings – a move that, despite today's partial victory for Pussy Riot, continued to give the proceedings the aura of a legal farce.

Tokonnikova, in turn, promised that their impending sentence would not lower the volume of their cause.

"Whether from Mordovia or Siberia, we won't stay silent."