Russia: PEN marks the first anniversary of Pussy Riot’s conviction

This weekend marked the first anniversary of the conviction of three members of Pussy Riot on charges of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’.

Following the performance of their Punk Prayer in a Moscow Cathedral in February 2012, three members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot were arrested. In August 2012, they were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ and each sentenced to two years in prison.

A year on from their conviction and in spite of an outpouring of support from across the globe, two members of the group, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, remain detained in remote penal colonies, far from Moscow and their young children. The third member of Pussy Riot to be charged, Yekaterina Samutsevich, has since been released from detention, having had her sentence suspended.

To mark the anniversary of the convictions, PEN International’s President John Ralston Saul has sent the following open letter to President Putin, protesting the continued imprisonment of Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, and outlining PEN’s concerns regarding free expression in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street, 
Moscow, 103132, Russia

Your Excellency,

I write to you as the President of PEN International, the writers’ and free expression organisation with 140 Centres in over 100 countries around the world, including Russia and many other countries in your region. 

17 August 2013 marks the first anniversary of the convictions of Nadezhda Tolokonnivova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – three members of the Russian female punk band, Pussy Riot. Convicted on charges of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ following Pussy Riot’s performance of a ‘punk prayer’ at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow in February 2012, each woman was punished with a two-year prison sentence (although Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended). 

The convictions and sentencing of Tolokonnivova, Alekhina and Samutsevich – which have been widely condemned inside Russia and throughout the world – represent a violation of their right to free expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia in 1973. One year after their convictions, these young women are now recognised across Russia and the rest of the world as victims of the crackdown on dissenting voices initiated by the government of the Russian Federation. 

PEN’s deep concern over the continued detention of Tolokonnivova and Alekhina is matched by our alarm over recent changes in Russian law that unlawfully restrict free expression.

In June 2013, you signed an amendment to Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code, making ‘public acts expressing manifest disrespect for society and carried out with the goal of insulting the feelings of religious believers’ a criminal offence with punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment. It is widely believed that this change in law was inspired by the Pussy Riot case. In the same month, a law prohibiting the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ was also passed, which bans any activity that could be construed as promoting a non-heterosexual lifestyle. This new law created a series of administrative penalties in the form of fines, suspensions for legal entities, and deportations for foreign nationals.

These two pieces of legislation are deeply worrying to supporters of free expression everywhere. Viewed alongside July 2012’s re-criminalisation of defamation, and the continued imprisonment of two members of Pussy Riot, we believe they demonstrate that the Russia Federation is taking an increasingly regressive approach to freedom of expression.

PEN International calls on the Russian Federation to immediately release the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot and to revoke the sentences of all three members of the band. We urge the Russian Federation to repeal its trio of anti-free expression laws – the re-criminalisation of defamation, the ban on the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships,’ and the religious insult law. And finally, we call upon your government to fully comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

Yours sincerely,

John Ralston Saul
International President

 

TAKE ACTION

Earlier this year, English PEN had the opportunity to meet two other members of the group during a visit to London to meet some of their many supporters. ‘Serafima’ and ‘Schumacher urged PEN members to continue to support their imprisoned colleagues by lobbying the authorities and writing directly to Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova.

Send a letter of appeal

  • Highlighting the fact that the continued detention of Pussy Riot members Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova violates their right to free expression, and is therefore in breach of international conventions, specifically Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a signatory;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, and the complete dismissal of the charges against all three women.

You can send messages to President Putin via the Kremlin website or to the following address:

President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street,
Moscow, 103132
Russia

We would also recommend that you write to the Russian Embassy in the UK:

His Excellency Dr Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko
6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens,
London,
W8 4QP
Fax: 020 7727 8625

Email: c/o press@rusemb.org.uk

Or you could use the form below.  A sample letter is provided but it is always better if you put the appeal in your own words.

[ecampaign ‘to= press@rusemb.org.uk‘ subject=”Free Pussy Riot”]

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you as a supporter of English PEN to express my grave concern for the detained members of Pussy Riot and to call for their immediate and unconditional release.

According to PEN’s information, in February 2012 a group of activists from the punk collective Pussy Riot staged a protest in a Moscow Cathedral, denouncing the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for President Vladimir Putin. They were arrested on charges of hooliganism and later sentenced to two years in prison. More than one year on from their conviction, two members of the group, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, remain detained in remote penal colonies, far from Moscow and their young children.

I consider the harsh sentences to be in retaliation for the criticisms the band have made of President Putin and the Orthodox Church. I firmly believe that all three women have been sentenced in violation of their right to free expression, in violation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Russia is a signatory. I am therefore calling on the Russian authorities to release Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova immediately and unconditionally, and for all charges against fellow Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich to be dropped.

I would welcome your comments on my appeal.

Yours sincerely,

 [/ecampaign]

Send a message of support

If you would like to send a message of support directly to the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, please email us for further details.

Poems for Pussy Riot

To rally support for Pussy Riot, in 2012 English PEN launched the Poems for Pussy Riot project, inviting poets from all over the world to write creative responses to the case. We received more than 100 submissions within a matter of weeks, which we posted as daily online tributes to the band on our website, and published as an e-book and print-on-demand collection Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. We are determined to keep their case in the public eye – please help us by downloading, reading, sharing, tweeting, translating and remixing the amazing work produced by our Poets for Pussy Riot.

Download the e-book: ePUB, Kindle and PDF versions available

The book is distributed on the ‘Pay What You Think It’s Worth’ model popularised by Radiohead and others. We recommend £5, but any amount is welcome and you can download for free if you wish. 

Click here to download.

Order your print on demand copy

Due to popular demand, a print on demand copy is now available, and costs £7.95 (+ P&P). We’d also be really grateful if you could spare a few minutes to rate and review the book.

Click here to order.

 *** All profits from both e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme. ***

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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