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The Pussy Riot affair remains in the focus of Russian public and media attention after one of the members of the feminist punk band was released in the courtroom. Yekaterina Samutsevich has since given several interviews to declare that there is no split in the group, that nobody had hired them for money to stage the escapade in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and that she herself would soon join the Opposition. The Pussy Riot band will go ahead with protest actions, Samutsevich promised.
Five young women at the end of February came to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow, put on masks, sneaked onto the solea and ambo – areas forbidden for laymen – and staged what would instantly be called punk prayer “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out!” The video clip was put on the Internet to cause wide public response. Three participants in the escapade – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were arrested. The young women, two of whom have little children, have spent months in detention waiting for trial. On August 17 a court ruled they were responsible for hooliganism motivated by hatred to believers and sentenced them to two years in a standard security jail.
On October 10 the Moscow City Court upheld a two-year jail term for Yakaterina Samutsevich, but suspended the sentence. It left the punishment of the two other convicts unchanged, though.
Many say Samutsevich owes her release to new lawyers. The newly-appointed defendants drew the court’s attention to the fact that Yekaterina did not participate in the actions that were recognized as hooliganism, but merely tried to take a guitar out of the case. She was instantly forced out of the church.
Commentators have offered a variety of opinions why the court made this sort of decision – some say it was an attempt to split the group, while others argued it was a concession to public opinion. The judges have held a special news conference to explain their attitude. Larisa Polyakova – the presiding judge of the panel that considered the appeal – told the media there had been no pressure from the authorities. Her colleague, Yuri Pasyunin, who presented the case, said that he learned of President Vladimir Putin’s statement the sentence passed on Pussy Riot was fair the day when the appeal was considered – in the course of the debate.
On Sunday, the NTV news channel showed an interview with the president, in which Putin offered the following comment on the sentence passed on Pussy Riot members: “It is very correct that they were arrested. And it was very right the court made such a decision. It is impermissible to undermine the basics of morality and to ruin the country. What shall we be left with then?”
The lawyer of one of the convicts, Violetta Volkova, said Putin’s statement was pressure on the court: “Making such statements, let alone several days before a court session, is impermissible for the head of state.”
“Nobody has ever caused any pressures on us,” Polyakova said. “We did hear the statements, but we made the decision on our own.”
Pasyunin said the court eased the punishment for Samutsevich because it had closely studied the role of each of the defendants in the incident. The sentences passed on Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were upheld, because the judges ruled “correction would be possible only in case of isolation from society.” Also, Polyakova said the children under age had been taken into account as a mitigating circumstance by the court of the first instance.
Immediately upon her release Samutsevich started to give interviews.
“Our action in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior had no masterminds,” she said. Samutsevich explained that the band always followed the “do-all-yourself” principle.
“All participants are the group’s authors. We have no masterminds, no organizers, no producers,” she said, adding that the group had not received any money from any source.
Earlier, there had been a variety of speculations as to who might have sponsored Pussy Riot. In Arkady Mamontov’s talk show Special Correspondent, which the Rossiya-1 TV channel aired in September, the suspicion was voiced self-exiled big business tycoon Boris Berezovsky was behind the provocation in the Chathedral of Christ the Savior.
The Pussy Riot group remains and it will go ahead with protest actions, but it will be more cautious, Samutsevich said.
“We live in a secular state. Clerics should by no means intervene in politics. The purpose of our demonstration was to draw attention to this problem,” Samutsevich said.
She recalled that the activists had never announced their actions in advance or shared plans for public appearances with anyone. She said she had not contacted the other women who took part in the punk prayer but remained free. She has no idea if they wish to go ahead with joint activities in the punk group, though.
Samutsevich also expressed her wish to join the opposition movement and take part in protest actions.
“I would like to participate in all this. I do not want to stay at home. I shall support all this, but I will be more cautious, and surely I will not be hurling stones,” she said.
“The arrest and the trial, both absurd and obviously political, have put up the names of participants in the punk prayer at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the banner of the non-systemic opposition,” says the daily Vedomosti. “The authorities punished them not for a specific wrongdoing (not mentioned in the Criminal Code, by the way), but for an insulting act, for hitting a sore spot. Society is now split into those who condemn the “scorners”, and those who see the trial as a political showcase and abuse of law and human rights.”
MOSCOW, October 12