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Hence the government’s insistence on throwing the book at a trio of feminist punk rockers. The case against Pussy Riot rests on the dubious charge that they incited “religious hatred.” The government has even found ten witnesses who have come forward to claim that they have suffered “moral damage” as a result of the band’s performance. Interestingly, the Russian Orthodox Church was prepared to forgive the band, initially calling for merciful treatment for the arrested members. But as soon as Putin’s press secretary called their protest “despicable” and vowed to pursue the band “with all the necessary consequences,” the church fell into line. It too is now urging harsh punishment, inadvertently proving Pussy Riot’s point about the church’s obeisance to Putin.
Fraudulent trials are nothing new in Russia, of course, dating back to the Soviet era. More recently, there is the case of Mikhail Khadorkovsy, the former oligarch and oil tycoon who is rotting in a penal colony in northern Russia after being sentenced on trumped-up charges of fraud for violating tax laws that were not in place in the 1990s. Then there is Sergei Magnitsky, the whistleblower lawyer who exposed how Russian government officials had defrauded foreign companies only to be imprisoned without trial. Within a year, he was dead under suspicious circumstances. Pussy Riot, alongside at least a dozen demonstrators swept up in the recent May 6 protest, may be looking at a similar fate.
If there is any hopeful news, it’s that they could still avoid it. Public reaction to the band’s stunt was initially harsh in Russia, but has become sympathetic in light of the government’s overreaction. Last month even some of Putin’s allies signed a petition warning that the case against Pussy Riot “compromises the Russian judicial system and undermines trust in the authorities.” The band has also drawn high-profile attention from human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International and major-label bands like the Red Hot Chilly Peppers, whose singer Anthony Kiedis sported a Pussy Riot shirt during a recent performance in Moscow. With the world watching, there is at least a possibility that the band won’t be disappeared into the darkness of the Russian legal system like so many others before them.
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