Sentence in Pussy Riot case due Fri, tensions in society mount

The mention of my article in ITAR-TASS

By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

On the eve of   sentencing in the Pussy Riot case (the court is to   pronounce its verdict on Friday) tensions in Russian   society are mounting. There have been ever more letters   from various groups of people in support of the defendants.   Supporters have been staging various protest   demonstrations, in some cases, very extravagant ones. The   Pussy Riot affair has turned into a major political problem   for the authorities. It is polarizing society and harming   the reputation of the Russian Orthodox Church. In case of   conviction the opponents of the authorities will emerge the   winners, experts warn.

Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court has scheduled for August   17 the sentencing of the three members of the Pussy Riot   punk group. Mariya Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and   Yekaterina Samutsevich are accused of hooliganism – for   what is most commonly referred to as ‘punk prayer’ in the   Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The prosecutor asked the   court for sentencing the defendants to three years in jail.   The lawyers insist on their full acquittal, as the whole   trial in their opinion is a political one.

A group of teachers of the Rodchenko school of   photography and multi-media on Tuesday came out in support   of the defendants. Yekaterina Samutsevich is a graduate of   the Rodchenko school. In her message, published on the   Novaya Gazeta web site, the teachers say that the charges   against Pussy Riot are false, hypocritical and based on the   term “blasphemy,” which does not exist in the current   criminal legislation. Also, they claim the charges are a   hidden form of political repression. The trial, they say,   is targeted against dissenters, and the treatment of the   accused and their keeping in custody, unreasonably brutal.

Any conviction, say the authors of the message, however   “soft” punishment may be, will cause irreparable damage to   Russia’s international reputation. In that connection they   demanded full acquittal.

The so-called “psycho-linguistic examination” in the   Pussy Riot case has nothing to do with psychology, a group   of Russian psychologists said in an open letter, published   in the Internet. The authors of the message believe that   the document the state prosecutor used to support the   charges is a list of plain banalities and cannot be   regarded as a product of psychological or linguistic   examination. They called upon their colleagues to discuss   the degree of responsibility for this grossly incompetent   conclusion.

A group of public figures and cultural workers has   addressed the Russian president with a request for   preventing a prison term for Pussy Riot members. In an open   letter published on the web site of the Ekho Moskvy radio   station the authors say that in reality the future of the   accused depends on the president personally. Among the   signatories to the message are economist Mikhail Dmitriyev,   politician Leonid Gozman, journalists Andrei Kolesnikov and   Denis Dragunsky and literature critic Marietta Chudakova.

On Wednesday morning there was a conflict in front of   the Cathedral of Christ the Savior between security   personnel and two dozen Pussy Riot supporters, who tried to   stage an action of protest in support of the defendants.   According to posts in the social networks, the activists   wearing colored balaclavas lined up on the stairway in   front of the cathedral, each holding one letter. In this   way they formed the phrase “Blessed are the merciful.”

The cathedral’s security tried to stop the picket, the   NEWSru.com website quoted some bloggers as saying. There   were petty brawls with reporters. After studying the   situation on site the police, assisted by the cathedral’s   security, detained three demonstrators, says blogger   TimurKhorev.

The day before Moscow police detained a hooligan who   demonstrated in support of Pussy riot inside Vladimir   Lenin’s tomb in Red Square. The man, a disabled resident of   Moscow, entered the tomb with other sightseers to have   scattered in front of the transparent sarcophagus   containing Lenin’s body some photographs of the young   women’s escapade in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

“There was no such protective energy in the period when   the authorities were persecuting Joseph Brodsky, Mstislav   Rostropovich and Andrei Sakharov,” says the weekly   Argumenty I Fakty. “Over just several months Pussy Riot   hooligans have become the symbol of resistance to ‘the dark   forces of evil.’ The Russian authorities (judicial and   political) are in confusion.”

Even despite the loss of its original political weight   Russia remains one of the most educated, cultured and   intellectually advanced societies, the periodical says.   That society has accumulated a tremendous potential of   renewal. “As there is no dialogue with the authorities,   that energy of renewal has been desperately seeking for   ways of its further existence. Confronted with   misunderstanding, this search often takes exotic forms, it   begins to look baffonish.”

“The Pussy Riot punk prayer is certainly a political   protest by the Opposition, and the real motive behind the   authorities’ response is to resist this protest,” says   political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya on the Politkom.ru   website. “Practically all of Putin’s opponents have rallied   around the young women, and the authorities’ harsh measures   are seen as manifestations of authoritarian trends in the   country.”

In her opinion, the women’s conviction, should it   happen, will in the final count play into the hands of the   protest movement, which will add new names to its list of   ‘martyrs’ and ‘victims of the regime.”

MOSCOW, August 15

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