Pussy Riot – Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich – first obtained global notice when the dissident band interrupted services at Christ The Savior Cathedral earlier this year. Wearing stocking masks, band members stood on the church’s altar and recited a prayer calling for the removal of Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying, “Mother Mary, drive Putin away.”
Security guards quickly rounded up the women, charging the band members with “hooliganisms,” a “crime” that could result in up to a seven-year prison sentence although prosecutors pressed for just under half the maximum, asking the judge to sentence the women to three years behind bars for a crime that would be considered a minor prank or misdemeanor in most countries.
Of course, most countries wouldn’t elevate such a prank to national status by arresting the pranksters and threatening them with serious prison time. Members of Pussy Riot and their lawyers believe the Aug. 17 sentencing will follow whatever Putin dictates. Reports out of Russia shortly after the band’s arrest indicated that Putin had formed an alliance with the church, allowing it to amass vast riches in return for supporting the president and his policies.
Many music artists have spoken out in defense of Pussy Riot. Madonna donned a black ski mask and wrote the group’s name on her back during her concert in Moscow earlier this month in which she stopped her performance for several minutes so she could voice her support for the group.
Several British musicians, including The Who’s Pete Townshend and members of Pet Shop Boys, also showed their support for the band via an open letter published in The Times of London.
Now Paul McCartney has spoken out in support of Pussy Riot. In an open letter to the band posted on his website, McCartney noted that freedom of speech is “the best way forward for all societies.”
Dear Nadya, Katya and Masha,
“I’m writing to show my support for you at this difficult time. I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest. Many people in the civilized world are allowed to voice their opinions and as long as they do not hurt anyone in doing so I believe this is the best way forward for all societies. I hope you can stay strong and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has declared the jailed Pussy Riot members to be “prisoners of conscience” and has collected tens of thousands of petition signatures in support of the band. The human rights organization tried to deliver the petitions to the Russian Embassy in Washington Aug. 14 but a diplomat dumped the documents on the sidewalk.
Continuing its protests in support of Pussy Riot, Amnesty International has organized a reading of the band’s courtroom statements by Chloe Sevigny, Eileen Myles, Karen Finley, Johanna Fateman, MX Justin Vivian Bond and others scheduled for tonight at New York City’s Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel.
A protest is also planned for Friday outside the Russian Consulate in New York City and later at Times Square. For more information, visit FreePussyRiot.org.