Mr Putin: insult is not a crime, so why prosecute Pussy Riot?
03 Aug 20120 comments
The Russian authorities should immediately release the three members of the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot and drop all criminal charges. ARTICLE 19 calls for the fundamental right to freedom of expression to be adhered to and for the authorities to ensure that no one is imprisoned for expressing peaceful critical political views.
As the current criminal investigation and ongoing trial against Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has shown, the criminal charges brought against the three under Article 213(2) of the Criminal Code (hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred or enmity against a social group, planned by an organised group) are out of sync with Russia’s international human rights obligations. The supporting statements by the alleged victims and witnesses, as well as the alleged evidence follow a pattern whereby the distinction between the role of the state and the Russian Orthodox Church are increasingly blurred – allowing for a political show trial, already being compared to ‘the Spanish Inquisition’.
Despite expertise (commissioned by the investigation) confirming that the actions of the three did not constitute incitement to religious hatred, the prosecution has refused to acknowledge this. It is now basing its arguments on expertise by non-qualified experts, who were brought in after the first two expert statements did not support with its own conclusion. In addition, the court, refusing the majority of questions posed by the defence, has shown particular disregard to the well-being of defendants, in denying them adequate food and sleep during the first 4 days of the trial, which started on 30 July. The refusal of the court to ensure confidential meetings between the defendants and their lawyers, as well as meetings with relatives, including small children, has been a further strain on the defendants, who have now been in pre trial detention for over 5 months for an action, even if insulting, that should never have been brought to be heard at a criminal court.
The Russian authorities must ensure that there is no question about its commitment to Article 14 of the Russian Constitution, establishing the Russian Federation as a secular state. Allowing for the current trial to continue is both illegal and embarrassing in the 21st century, even for Russia.