Tuesday, August 7, 2012

White Women In Trouble!

Caption: In solidarity, but not for long. It's really hot in this thing...

Image credit: Composite by Cujo359. Based on image found here

Usually, when I write something like "young white women in peril", I'm joking about the priorities of our news organizations, particularly the broadcast versions. Not this time, as Amnesty International notes:

Amnesty International today demanded that Russia immediately release three young women arrested for allegedly singing a protest song that criticizes both the Orthodox Church and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Several members of a music group called "Pussy Riot," with their faces covered in balaclavas, sang a protest song entitled, "Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin," on Feb. 21 at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The song criticizes the support shown by some representatives of the Orthodox Church to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and calls on the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Putin.

Amnesty International Demands Russia Release Punk Singers Detained Following Church Performance

As an e-mail my real-world self received today explains, the three young women are now on trial. The U.K. Guardian describes the trial:

By the end of the first week of Pussy Riot's trial, everyone in the shabby Moscow courthouse was tired. Guards, armed with submachine guns, grabbed journalists and threw them out of the room at will. The judge, perched in front of a shabby Russian flag, refused to look at the defence. And the police dog – a 100lb black Rottweiler – no longer sat in the corner she had occupied since the start of Russia's trial of the year, but barked and foamed at the mouth as if she were in search of blood.

The trial of the three band members, jailed since March after performing a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral, has been about more than the charges brought against them – formally, hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In five days of testimony, lawyers and witnesses have laid bare the stark divide that has emerged in Russian society: one deeply conservative and accepting of a state that uses vague laws and bureaucracy to control its citizens, the other liberal bordering on anarchist and beginning to fight against that state with any means it can.

The court is dominated by a glass cage that holds the three women – Maria Alyokhina, who has emerged as their unofficial spokeswoman; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, whose chiselled features have made her the band's unofficial face; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who sits in a corner of the cage looking every bit the disgruntled punk.


According to Pussy Riot's lawyers, Russia has revived the Soviet-era tradition of the show trial with its case against the group. "Even in Soviet times, in Stalin's times, the courts were more honest than this one," lawyer Nikolai Polozov shouted in court.

Pussy Riot trial 'worse than Soviet era'

Women in a glass cage - it sounds like a bad '80s exploitation film. Yet it's not the first time that cage has been put to use, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Foreign Policy calls "Russia's most famous prisoner, explains:

It is painful to watch what is taking place in the Khamovnichesky Court of the city of Moscow, where Masha, Nadya, and Katya are on trial. The word “trial” is applicable here only in the sense in which it was used by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages.

I know this aquarium in courtroom number 7 well – they made it especially for me and Platon, “just for us”, after the ECHR had declared that keeping defendants behind bars is degrading and violates the Convention on Human Rights.

This is a subtle and sophisticated way of mocking people who dared to file a complaint with the ECHR: ah, okay, so you say that a cage with bars is bad; well then, here’s a cage made of glass for you, a beaker with a little porthole through which you can talk to your lawyers, but you need to twist and contort yourself every which way to actually be able to speak through it. In the summer you feel like a tropical fish in that glass cage – it is hot, and the air from the air conditioner in the courtroom does not circulate through the glass. It was hard for me and Platon – two people – to be in the aquarium together the whole day. I can not even imagine how all three of those poor girls manage to fit in there at once…

Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Pussy Riot

Spencer Ackerman explains how this is going to look, whatever the outcome of the trial:

It almost doesn't matter what the court says. The three women of Pussy Riot -- an explosive, obnoxious cross between a band and an anonymous Russian dissidents' movement -- have, in an important sense, already won their farce of a trial in Moscow. Every day that their trial for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" continues, they call international attention to the paranoid repression of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Pussy Riot has skewered Putin on the horns of a dilemma: Either his government convicts the band and martyrs it even further, or it backs down and concedes that prosecuting the masked trio for a cacophonous musical protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral that called attention to the Russian church's alliance with the Putin regime was always a mistake. Three of the five band members now face the prospect of seven years in prison, which has prompted an unlikely international outcry. On Thursday, Aug. 2, ahead of a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin indicated he'd prefer to back down.

Making Punk a Threat Again

No matter what the outcome of the trial, Russia's leaders are the ones who end up looking like pussies - afraid of a punk band made up of young women who, near as anyone can tell, have never really been a threat to anyone.

That statement by Putin that Spencer Ackerman referred to didn't help matters.

A state prosecutor on Tuesday demanded a three-year jail term for three women from punk band Pussy Riot, saying they had abused God when they burst into a Moscow cathedral and sang a "protest prayer" against the Russian Orthodox Church's close links to Vladimir Putin.

Russian prosecutor seeks jail terms for female punk rock band

A dictator describing a three-year sentence as lenient for an act that could at worst be described as bad taste doesn't scream "pathetic rationalization", now does it?

Amnesty International has an online petition in support of Pussy Riot. While these things don't normally mean much, it's one way of letting Putin and his goons know that the rest of the world is watching. AI have had some success pressuring leaders over the years, and, as we like to say here in America, the optics don't look good on this one.

There is also a campaign website called Free Pussy Riot with news and more information about other actions.

(h/t Taylor Marsh for a couple of those links.)

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