Click here for a 37-second video on the Pussy Riot case in English
No court hearings in Pussy Riot’s two-week long trial started on time, and today’s no exception. Outside, a quartet performed classical music. Tensions died down, but the crowd started chanting “Free Pussy Riot”. The hearing started at 15.16 MSK (12.16 UTC 07.16 EDT 04.16 PDT 21.16 AEDT), and the judge found the Pussy Riot members guilty. The crowd, which swelled to at least several hundred, possibly a thousand, chanted, “Down with the police state!”, ignoring police demands to stop. Nearby, a group of stocky men in track suits shouted, “Pussy Riot will fail!”
A handful of Cossacks showed up by the court, and some skinheads were spotted in the crowd. Pussy Riot member Tolokonnikova stood with her arms crossed, scowling, as the verdict is being read. She sported her usual T-Shirt with a clenched fist and the Spanish words “No Pasaran!” (They shall not pass!). The courtroom was packed. There was a near riot outside the courtroom as journalists were kept waiting for over three hours to be allowed in. Outside, protesters continued with oppositional chants, whilst police pulled people out of the crowd to haul away in paddy wagons, seemingly at random.
The father of Yekaterina Samutsevich and the mother of Maria Alyokhina, the other two group members convicted today, are also in the courtroom, smiling sadly at their children, who are kept in a glass cage, like all suspects in Russian court cases. Incredibly tense atmosphere at Moscow’s Khamovnichesky district court. Everyone is waiting to see if the judge will impose a custodial sentence or free the convicts who spent five months in pre-trial detention. Analysts have little doubt the decision was taken outside the courtroom. Orthodox believers are split on what should be done.
Alyokhina smiled and shook her head slowly as the judge described how the group’s protest “insulted the feelings of Orthodox believers”. Judge Syrova described how the women were dressed in “inappropriate clothes for a church” and how they shouted “blasphemous and sacrilegious words hurtful to believers”. Outside, sporadic arrests continued. Police broke through the crowd to detain a man, prompting angry cries from other protesters, but no outright clashes. Judge Syrova also said that there was no mention of President Vladimir Putin or politics during the performance in the cathedral. The phrase “Virgin Mary drive Putin out” was added to the video of the performance later, the judge said.
Online Moscow newspaper The Village reported that police filled five vans with people arrested outside the courtroom. Moscow municipal lawmaker Kostas Jankauskas said opposition leader Garry Kasparov was also held by police, who beat him up when detaining him. Tycoon Aleksandr Lebedev was in the courtroom. Lebedev, who warned recently that Russia was tottering on the edge of a wave of political repression, earlier offered to stand bail for the group. Earlier this month, he said that he’s selling his Russian assets because law enforcement officials constantly harass his businesses.
The three Pussy Riot members listened to the verdict standing in their glass cage wearing handcuffs, even though their guards removed the handcuffs during previous hearings. The judge read their character references. Alyokhina “writes poetry, fights against injustice, and doesn’t drink. She’s also a vegan and a good mother to her small child”. Both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have small children they haven’t seen for over five months. Tolokonnikova smirked as the judge repeated Pussy Riot’s insults towards the Church and Putin. The Church’s de facto spokesman on the case, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, told RIA-Novosti in an exclusive interview last month that the Church expected the women to repent for their protest. Chaplin said God had “revealed” this to him in a vision.
We could be here for a while yet. One thing’s for sure, Judge Syrova will have a sore throat tonight. She’s been speaking non-stop now for over two hours. Whatever the sentence is, the Pussy Riot story is unlikely to end here. Defence lawyers have said they will appeal the guilty verdict at the European Court of Human Rights, even if their clients aren’t jailed. The judge dismissed Pussy Riot’s claim that they were acting on political motives, not religious hatred. A recorded song by Pussy Riot blasted outside the court, but loud enough for the sound to carry to the courtroom. Judge Syrova is still reading the verdict. People are finding it hard not to fidget or chat. Everyone just seems to want her to get to the sentence, especially Pussy Riot. By the way, this is the court where former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced in 2010 on economic charges he said were the Kremlin‘s revenge for his financial support of opposition parties.
Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich, and Alyokhina got two years in prison (including time served), of which they have some 14 months left to serve. Pussy Riot all smiled sadly as sentence is read. Cries of “disgrace!” sounded in the courtroom at the verdict, but they quickly died down. The Pussy Riot members laughed amongst themselves as they wait to be led away. Samutsevich’s father told journalists outside the court that the sentence was “terrible” and that his daughter didn’t deserve jail time. The US Embassy in Russia called the verdict “disproportionate” on its official Twitter. The crowd applauded as a police van carrying Pussy Riot members drove away, then, started chanting, “How much does a conscience cost?” Nevertheless, there was no violence outside the courtroom, as the police had made some arrests earlier. Opposition lawmaker Dmitri Gudkov told journalists the sentence proves “there’s no independent court in Russia”, and that the trial “dragged the country back to the “Middle Ages“. He also warned that rulings like this increase the danger of “civil war”. However, he said, “Repression won’t stop the protest movement”.
Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov told journalists outside the court, “The only thing that can save my wife and our child is revolution. I feel like we have to make a revolution”. Verzilov is a member of the Voina art group (“Voina” means “war” in English). Outside of the courtroom, a crowd of several hundred Pussy Riot supporters chanted, “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive”. A protester scaled a lamppost, puts on a Pussy Riot-style balaclava, and chanted, “Free Pussy Riot”. Police scaled the fence and chased the girl onto the property of the nearby Turkish embassy. A senior cop yelled, “Fuck, you aren’t allowed in there!” The crowd started chanting “fascists”, like during the ill-fated rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on 6 May that ended with riots. Things seemed to be getting nasty. An OMON major refused to comment on the intrusion into the Turkish embassy grounds when RIA-Novosti asked him about it. Majority of Russian journalists seem as angry, or, at least as dismayed, by the sentence as Pussy Riot supporters. The crowd chanted, “Virgin Mary, free Pussy Riot!”
Defence lawyers said they’d appeal and the crowd greeted them with a sustained round of applause as they left. On Friday, the Church called the verdict justified in a statement, but said it asked the authorities to pardon the Pussy Riot members. At 17.25 MSK (14.25 UTC 09.25 EDT 06.25 PDT 23.25 AEDT), the cops started to order the protesters to disperse. The protesters responded, “We aren’t leaving”. An elderly resident asked them, “Why don’t you just hang an American flag up there?” Many Russians believe Pussy Riot’s protest was part of a Western-backed plot to destabilise Russia. Protesters hung a banner in support of Pussy Riot from a nearby apartment block. The text read, “Gundai and the gang are holy shit”, adding the family name of church head Patriarch Kirill (Kirill Gundyaev) to a line from a Pussy Riot song. At 20.00 MSK (17.00 UTC 12.00 EDT 09.00 PDT 02.00 Saturday 18 August AEDT), cops made more arrests as protesters held up a banner reading, “You are fucking insane”. Police moved in to wrench the cardboard banner away and dragged activists away to a police truck waiting nearby. Things seemed to be calming down. There are around 100 protesters left outside the court. More than 50 people were detained at the Khamovnichesky court on Friday, city police said. There were more arrests.
A protester held up an anti-Putin placard in the middle of the road, but the police dragged him away. As the leaflet fell, another young man picked it up, before he was dragged away, too. Arrests mounted up, now. Police stood by as the song, Putin Lights Up the Fires, continued to blast out. The lyrics include the line, “The country’s moving, and Putin’s moving out!” Has the protest movement found an anthem? The crowd started to chant, “Putin is a thief”. A protester yelled at an OMON man, “Help defend your homeland!” The OMONtsy replied, “I know where my homeland is”. A car arrived and starts blasting out Pussy Riot songs. At 20.20 MSK (17.20 UTC 12.20 EDT 09.20 PDT 02.20 Saturday 18 August AEDT), the OMONtsy moved in on the remaining demonstrators.
17 August 2012
Let’s keep this in perspective… there were never more than a thousand protesters outside the court at most. As the OMONtsy arrested the more provocative members, the crowd began to disperse on its own. That is, Pussy Riot didn’t create a popular groundswell. It was a tiny bunch of agitators… some “professional” troublemakers and some provocateurs from Langley. Note well that the KPRF and the socialists weren’t involved (they’re right-minded patriots, after all), and there weren’t many from the Left Front, either. Udaltsov made an appearance early on, but the cops nicked him, and released him after booking him. At the end, there were only about 100 hardcore nutters left. Watch this to be blown out of all proportion in the Western media. America, in particular, should keep “hands off”. After all, it holds prisoners without trial in Guantánamo… that’s far worse than the Pussy Riot situation. Watch for self-righteous and self-glorifying bleats from both “liberals” and “conservatives” in the West. As a leftist, I say, “A plague on both their houses… both are godless, worship power, and want to rape the people”. Pass the jug… we all need a slug…