Russia: Pussy Riot members released

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English PEN welcomes release of Pussy Riot members

On 18 December 2013, Russia’s State Duma unanimously approved an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia’s constitution.

We are delighted that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, both members of Pussy Riot, have now been released and reunited with their families, in particular their two young children. However, it is important to bear in mind that both women had already served the majority of their respective two-year prison sentences and, crucially, that these sentences were in retaliation for their criticism of President Putin and the Orthodox Church. We firmly believe that Tolokinnokova, Alyokhina, and fellow group member Yekaterina Samutsevich (who was released on appeal in October 2012) were sentenced in violation of their right to freedom of expression and of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Russia is a signatory.

Furthermore, the ‘hooliganism’ law that was used to imprison members of Pussy Riot remains in place. There have been numerous examples of hooliganism charges being used as a way of trying to quash dissent, as with the case of activist Petr Pavlensky, and we are seriously concerned that the law will continue to be used to punish Russian citizens who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

We also remain deeply concerned about the so-called ‘blasphemy’ law passed in June this year and widely seen as a legislative response to Pussy Riot’s performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. Those who fall foul of the law, which criminalises ‘religious insult’, could face up to three years in prison or a fine of up to US $16,000. We are concerned that this law will be used as a way of punishing activists and writers solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions.

‘The worldwide publicity that Pussy Riot’s case has attracted has exposed the Russian government’s draconian suppression of dissent. It is essential that the amnesty is followed by a review, and ultimately, repeal, of all laws that undermine Russian citizens’ right to freedom of expression.’

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN

Notes

Since their arrest, members of Pussy Riot have been the focus of a major campaign for English PEN. In 2012, in order to rally support for the group, we launched ‘Poems for Pussy Riot’, inviting poets from all over the world to write creative responses to their cases and the issues they seek to highlight. Within a matter of weeks we had received more than 100 submissions from a wide-range of contributors, including stand-up comedian Phill Jupitus, award-winning Scottish writer Ali Smith, and the Australian poet John Kinsella. To coincide with Pussy Riot’s appeal hearing on 1 October 2012, we self-published the best submissions as an e-book and print-on-demand anthology, Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. The collection has since been awarded the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Anthology, while proceeds from sales and related events have been divided between the Pussy Riot Fund (administered by The Voice Project) and supporting the ongoing work of our Writers at Risk programme.

Crucially, the poems afforded us the opportunity to keep Pussy Riot’s case in the public eye. In additional to regular coverage on our website, we have held public events across the UK and Ireland, including an event in the Houses of Parliament, a poetry protest outside the Russian Embassy and, most recently, two performances of ‘Pussy Riot: Hunger Strike’ in collaboration with the Bush Theatre in London. We were also honoured to have the opportunity to host two other members of Pussy Riot during their trip to London in 2013, and to organise meetings with the UK press and key supporters. We will continue to do all we can to support them over the coming months, as they readjust to life outside the prison walls.

If you would like to contribute to the Pussy Riot fund, you can do so here. Alternatively, please buy a copy of our anthology Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, the proceeds of which will be divided between the fund and our ongoing work on behalf of writers at risk around the world. Thank you.

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