Human rights activists are calling for the release of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. The three feminists are facing up to seven years in prison following a performance against Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin is not to be messed with. Especially not when a protest against the prime minister and future president happens to take place in one of the country's most important Russian Orthodox cathedrals.
It's a lesson that Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samusevich have recently had to learn.
The three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot have been in prison since the beginning of March. They face the possibility of up to seven years jail time - all because of a punk performance against Putin at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on February 21, 2012. They were later accused of trying to denounce the close ties between Russian politics and the Orthodox Church.
The case of Pussy Riot has divided Russian society. Many religious Russians found the musical demonstration tasteless and offensive. After such blasphemy, one should not be allowed to simply carry on, said Patriarch Kirill. In a survey, around 46 percent of Russians questioned said they believed the proposed penalty for the three young punks was appropriate.
Human rights activists see things differently. The director of the Helsinki Group in Moscow, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, believes that the case against Pussy Riot is politically motivated. The human rights organization Amnesty International has leveled serious allegations against the Russian justice system and is calling for the immediate release of the three activists. The charge of hooliganism does not justify imprisonment and is not a legal reaction to peaceful political demonstrations, a press statement said.
The young women are therefore considered to be political prisoners. Amnesty International did, however, add that the artistic action in a church was "offensive to many."
Hard guitars against Putin
What the feminist punks from Pussy Riot did exactly in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior can be seen in a video clip on YouTube. In their nearly two-minute-long "Punk Prayer," the three women can seen dressed in colorful balaclavas, pantyhose and mini-skirts, dancing wildly and jumping in front of the alter. The video was later given a soundtrack in which the Mother of God is asked to "hunt down Putin."
Such videos form the core of Pussy Riot's work, the group told DW in an interview before their imprisonment.
"Videos are most important for us," said the women. It is about widening their audience so that viewers in cities outside of Moscow can also watch their "media productions."
Inspired by the Arab Spring
Pussy Riot, which was founded just last fall, describe themselves as a "political punk rock band." They established themselves as a group shortly before the parliamentary elections in Russia with the aim of influencing public opinion against Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party.
The young women say they were inspired by the Arab Spring. "The Arabic air is good for the lungs, it turns Red Square into Tahrir Square!" read the lyrics to one of their songs. Until now, the feminists have only taken part in a few demonstrations: on Moscow's Red Square, in the underground, or on the roof of a jail.
"Our main goal is to protest in places where it is forbidden," said the members of the group. Their actions recall those of the Ukrainian group, FEMEN, which have been causing a furor for years. But in contrast to the members of FEMEN, who gain attention for their political cause by protesting with their breasts exposed, their Russian counterparts remain fully clothed.
The women from Pussy Riot say they do not want to reinforce any "feminine clichés" and prefer to play punk rock than strip.
Human rights activists have created a special website calling for solidarity events in support of Pussy Riot to be held on April 15 - Easter Sunday for Orthodox Christians - and on Saturday, April 21. The three women are to remain in custody at least until the end of April. Whether they will be released or given a seven-year prison sentence remains open.
Author: Roman Goncharenko / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen