Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Protests over punk band's jail term

Protesters took to the streets after three members of punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison

Human rights activists have taken to the streets in support of feminist punk band Pussy Riot whose members were jailed for two years for hooliganism in Moscow.

Crowds of banner-waving supporters protested outside Russia's embassy in London's Kensington Palace Gardens and masked demonstrators also protested in O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare.

The three female band members were each sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism driven by religious hatred and offending religious believers. The trio were arrested in March after an unauthorised performance in Moscow's main cathedral calling for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against leader Vladimir Putin.

Three windows at the London embassy were smashed and a railing damaged on Thursday night before the verdicts were reached. On Friday, the band's supporters expressed their outrage outside the building.

Tommy Anarchic, 26, lead singer for London-based electro-punk band Without My Medicine, said: "This is bo****ks really. All they did was annoy the right-wing church in Russia, which is a big power in that part of the world. If they did the same performance at a nightclub, they would have been fine. I think the Russian authorities could have let this slide. Now they have the world covering this."

Sir Paul McCartney, Bjork, Sting and Madonna have publicly supported the punk provocateurs. Sir Paul wrote to the women telling them to "stay strong" and that he would do everything in his power to help them. As well as London and Dublin, supporters also took to the streets of Paris, Kiev, Berlin and Sofia.

Amnesty International said it believed the trial was politically motivated, and the trio were wrongfully prosecuted for what was a legitimate - if potentially offensive - protest action. Amnesty said a protest would be held on Saturday at the Russian embassy in Melville Street, Edinburgh, at midday.

Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice-president of the Commission, said: "This sentence is disproportionate. Together with the reports of the band members' mistreatment during their pre-trial detention and the reported irregularities of the trial, it puts a serious question mark over Russia's respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process. It also runs counter to Russia's international obligations as regards respect for freedom of expression.

"This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation, a trend that is of growing concern to the European Union. Respect for human rights and the rule of law is an indispensable part of the EU-Russia relationship. Sentencing of the three young women, two of whom are mothers of small children, to two years in prison for a peaceful, if controversial, expression of their views, is deeply troubling. I expect that this sentence will be reviewed and reversed in line with Russia's international commitments."

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: "I am deeply concerned by the sentencing of three members of the band Pussy Riot, which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief. Reports about conditions of the detention of the women, and the conduct of the trial, are also concerning. The Government is committed to a relationship with Russia in which we can discuss differences frankly and constructively. We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way. Today's verdict calls into question Russia's commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms."

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