Voices from Russia

Friday, 24 August 2012

Freedom of Hate: Protected?


This week, Russia’s once again become the target for criticism, this time for the verdict in the case of a punk group putting on a provocative show at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The three masked ladies, having staged what they have deemed a “protest punk prayer”, prancing and screaming obscenities right in front of the altar, were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism and religious hate. The verdict drew lots of indignation from human rights activists, celebrities, and politicians. Amnesty International condemned the court’s ruling, saying, “It shows that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society”. The governments of Britain, France, Germany, and the USA denounced the sentences as disproportionate. German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loning told Deutsche Welle, “Definitely, this is a disproportionate sentence”.

German justice might take a different stance. Last Sunday during mass, five people entered the main cathedral in Köln, hoping to re-enact the Moscow show. Church security and priests briskly marched them out, and, now, three of them are facing criminal charges. German laws mandate a punishment of up to three years in prison for acts of hooliganism in prayer areas. In Finland, you get a two-year jail sentence for only attempting to repeat something like what the Moscow ladies did. A suit was filed with the Helsinki police against Teivo Teivainen, a professor of the University of Helsinki, for attempting to repeat the Russian feminist punk band’s stunt near the Orthodox  Assumption Cathedral in Helsinki. Erkki Johan Bäckman, a Finnish human rights activist and an adjunct professor of the University of Helsinki, told Interfax, “A criminal case was initiated under two Finnish Criminal Code articles concerning the violation of religious tolerance rules. If the Prosecutor General’s Office presses charges against the professor, he’ll face up to two years imprisonment”.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, commented on the Moscow punks’ verdict, saying, “Whilst we understand the group’s behaviour was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system”. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch wrote on Politicker.com, “Most shocking to me was the response of the White House. The Western cultural élite is rallying to the defence of the disrupters in the cathedral. Some approve of the verbal attack on Putin. Others support the denunciation of the Russian Orthodox Church leadership and the church disruption because of the church leadership’s support of Putin. All cited characterise the issue as one of free speech. I don’t. I’d assume that many Pussy Riot supporters would take a different position, and rightly so, if here in the USA, a black church were invaded and three men or women engaged in comparable conduct insulting holy places within the church and the pastor…”.

Well, let’s see. As recently as the beginning of this month, a Court in Pennsylvania adjudicated a case of church desecration. Four defendants aged 19-24 got up to 24-month jail sentences, followed by 24 months probation, and a 1,000 USD (31,850 Roubles. 800 Euros. 640 UK Pounds) fine. They aren’t to have any contact with members of the church or be on church property, and must write a letter of apology to the church members. What did they do? During the night, they entered Gardner Hill Community Church in Weedville PA, stole a stereo, and dragged a dead deer inside. They left, breaking the front window of a church. They pleaded guilty to burglary and criminal mischief. You might get just as much without stealing anything. Several years ago, two 19-year-olds were sentenced to 15 and 12 months for spray-painting Nazi swastikas on grave markers in a Jewish cemetery in Saddle Brook NJ. That was considered a hate crime, and the two were jailed. Now, does anyone honestly think that screaming obscenities in the middle of a cathedral, revered by hundreds of thousands, is what turns a plain act of religious hatred into political protest?

24 August 2012

Voice of Russia World Service

Yekaterina Kudashkina


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