In London for the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin has voiced his opinion of the trial of three members of the punk-protest band Pussy Riot. Interfax news agency quoted Putin, who said there was “nothing good” about the band’s protest in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, but “Nonetheless, I don’t think that they should be judged so harshly for this. I hope the court will come out with the right decision, a well-founded one.”
In other words, the court needs to be aware that President Putin will not be pleased if the three women are handed the maximum sentence of seven years hard time. This trial has turned into a public relations nightmare for Putin on top of the allegations that he and his party rigged the parliamentary and presidential elections this spring. This interview is the best news possible for Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich.
Putin has been increasingly criticized for suppression of dissidents in Russia and heavy handed dealing with former Soviet states like the Ukraine. His decision to get his ventriloquist’s dummy former President, present Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev to amend the constitution to change the presidential term from four years to six and then seek two more terms as President reeked to many Russians of a desire on Putin’s part to return to the days of one-party rule and dictatorship. Russia was wracked with protests after the parliamentary elections and leading up to the presidential election.
The women have been charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” They walked up to the altar of the Cathedral and prayed to the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out!” They made no negative remarks about the church, but did offend many believers. The offense might have had more to do with their favorite performance appearance than the content of their very political message.
The women have already been held for five months in jail. Their defense lawyer, Violetta Volkova, has explained to the press that the women are being woken at 5 a.m. and driven to the courthouse, where they are confined to a small room until the court convenes, given very little food during the 11-hour court proceedings and returned to their cells after midnight. Maria Alyokhina had to receive medical treatment after she collapsed twice in court on Wednesday. Volkova had filed an appeal to another court for a month’s recess after the prosecution handed her their 3,000 page “case” against her clients. Mindboggling number? My Unabridged Random House Dictionary is only 2,059 pages and weighs ten pounds. A simple, straight-forward criminal case, say one arising from an Occupy Wall Street riot, wouldn’t run a tenth that size. In this country, you have to get into organized crime, criminal conspiracy stuff before the filings get that big.
If Putin’s word resonate in Russia, the trial may end faster than originally estimated. And the whole world is literally watching this one trial.
The next criminal trial in Russia that will be carefully watched by the world will be that of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was recently arrested and charged with theft, and there are rumors that protest organizer Gennady Gudkov, who is a member of parliament, is being investigated for illegal business activity, a favorite means by which Putin gets rid of opponents.
A small aside here…..When I got on a Yahoo news story about the Pussy Riot trial today, I was not surprised to discover that the name of the band brought out the latent giggle-snorting-12-year-old in male posters. I went looking for the band’s real name, in Russian, to run it through a translation program in the hopes that it was just a bad translation. Nope. The name of the band is in English, even in Russian newspapers and magazines. Their name is Pussy Riot, intentionally.