Consular assistance in Russia

Russia is currently at war in Ukraine. Are you in Russia and need consular assistance? Find your country’s embassy in Russia on EmbassyPages.

Home News Pussy Riot rockers unfazed by labour camp ruling

Pussy Riot rockers unfazed by labour camp ruling

Published on 17/08/2012

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova smiled and pointedly held her breath as the judge led up to her sentence for the three women members of Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot: two years in a corrective labour camp.

It was a dramatic climax to a surreal trial where the judge has discussed ecclesiastical terms and “vulgar” clothing to rule whether they spread religious hatred with a gig against Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main church.

The three young women standing in a glass cage had exchanged glances of exasperation as judge Marina Syrova on Friday read out reams of testimony after firing out the initial guilty verdict in the first half-hour.

She even read out the entire lyrics of the group’s Punk Prayer song that they sang in the Moscow cathedral — including the chorus “Virgin Mary, drive out Putin!” — before saying there was no proof it was political.

As the judge accused Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Tolokonnikova, 24, of “mixed personality disorder,” Samutsevich stood stony-faced before grinning ironically when she conceded it did not require treatment.

Forced to stand for nearly three hours as the verdict was read out, the women swayed with fatigue and closed their eyes at times after being brought to the court early in the morning for a 3 pm hearing.

But they held their heads high and showed no hint of tears.

Tolokonnikova had told Novaya Gazeta newspaper in an interview ahead of the verdict that she was not afraid of being sent to a prison colony because “there are great people everywhere.”

The eloquent philosophy student wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the revolutionary “No pasaran” (“They shall not pass” in Spanish — an expression used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy), while Alyokhina sported dark blue nail polish.

Refusing to appear broken, the women have made a clear attempt to remain well-groomed despite being dragged out from bed at 5 am to attend court and then spending hours in tiny cells in the police van.

Their lawyers bowed their heads after the guilty verdict, barely listening from then on as the judge listed the victims who said they had experienced “moral harm” from the 40-second performance.

A security guard said he had been forced to quit his job because of the emotional trauma.

Repeating testimony at length, the judge detailed how the women’s skirts rode up as they kicked their legs and how they crossed into an area of the church forbidden to women.

At one point, lawyers Nikolai Polozov and Violetta Volkova — who are both prolific Twitter users — openly grinned over a joke Polozov spotted while scrolling on his iPhone.

Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov, an activist himself, was also buried in his iPhone for much of the hearing in a case that has shown the power of electronic media in Russia to raise support for an initially obscure cause.

The band’s supporters have also been pitch-perfect in recruiting powerful international stars including Paul McCartney and Madonna. Only actress Alicia Silverstone attracted ridicule by urging Russia to give prisoners vegan food.

“We think the trial itself was a farce and its verdict was like the culmination of the farce,” lawyer Mark Feigin told journalists afterwards.

“Putin is lighting the fires of the revolution,” Verzilov said outside the courtroom after the verdict was delivered, citing the lyrics of a new song by Pussy Riot’s fluid female collective.