Russia keeps punk rock protesters jailed


Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (center), Maria Alyokhina (right) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (left), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 20, 2012. The trio, who face up to seven years in jail, have been held in pre-trial detention since March. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)
July 20, 2012

In a sign of Russian authorities’ determination to clamp down on dissent, a court extended for six months on Friday the detention of three punk rockers who had staged a protest performance in a cathedral.

The three young women were among a group of five mask-wearing singers known as Pussy Riot who took to the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February and chanted what they described as a punk prayer. In it, they called on divine intervention to drive then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from office two weeks before his election as president.

The women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — were arrested shortly afterward. In a preliminary hearing Friday, prosecutors said they needed more time to investigate and asked for an extension until January. By then the women will have been behind bars for a total of 10 months, accused of blasphemy and offending Orthodox believers. They are being held on hooliganism charges, which can bring up to seven years in jail.

The court action came just after the Russian parliament passed a series of quickly written laws this month aimed at curbing protest by imposing hefty fines for slander, allowing government limits on the Internet and forcing human rights and election-monitoring organizations, among other groups that receive foreign funds, to register as foreign agents.

News of the prolonged detention quickly dominated Twitter and other social media and was met by disbelief and outrage. Although the Russian Orthodox Church has supported the rockers’ prosecution, the charges have angered many here, believers and non-believers alike, who say the women may be guilty of disorderly conduct but should not be in jail.

Influential cultural figures have signed petitions in their defense, and fund-raising concerts for them have been held around the world. Amnesty International has described them as prisoners of conscience and, after the latest court ruling, called for their immediate release.

In one tweet Friday, a young woman vowed she would never enter an Orthodox church again. In another, a young man said it was time for anyone with brains to leave the country.

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