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Russian "Telephone Justice" for Pussy Riot

Posted By Helle Dale On September 3, 2012 @ 12:08 pm In Featured | Comments Disabled

[1]Members of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot, who have become international celebrities as victims of Russian “justice,” on August 17 received two-year jail terms for acts of “hooliganism” against the Russian church.

They will be serving their sentence in the allegedly most “lenient incarceration” available, not a particularly reassuring prospect, one would think. But the fact is that this case is not about “hooliganism” at all but about Pussy Riot taking on Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin. What it also reveals is the increasingly reactionary and statist nature of Russia under Putin.

The protest Pussy Riot was found guilty of actually involved no actual music at the time. The masked ladies went into the Church of Christ the Savior and danced before the altar, using many expletives but not Putin’s name. At the time, no one (beyond the inconvenienced congregation) seemed to mind much. Later, however, Pussy Riot made a music video of their “performance” that included anti-Putin lyrics.

This action made the courts listen to political pressure to prosecute, or—in the inimitable Russian phrase—engage in “telephone justice.” According to Nikolas Gvosdev of the Naval War College, speaking at the Nixon Center on Wednesday, more than 90 percent of Russian judges today are ex-police or ex-prosecutors, and less than 1 percent former defense attorneys. In Russian courts, not surprisingly, about 97 percent of defendants are found guilty.

While the Pussy Riot case has caused consternation abroad, in Russia, outrage has focused on the band’s behavior. Only a minority supports the group, whose indisputably distasteful behavior in a church has fragmented the support it might otherwise have had. One poll [2] suggested that 57 percent are in favor of the court’s verdict and just 27 percent against. Thus, the concept fundamental to the U.S. First Amendment—that even distasteful speech is protected by the Constitution—has no counterpart in Russia.

What the case also reveals is that the separation of church and state in Russia is becoming increasingly tenuous. The Russian Orthodox Church claims to be the leader of civil society, even though only 2 percent of Russians are regular church-goers. As a result of the Pussy Riot event, the church looks weak and more dependent on the state.

After the group’s five-month incarceration without charge, farcical trial, and disproportionate sentence, international pressure should be exerted to force the Russian “justice system” to make the punishment fit the crime.


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URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2012/09/03/russian-telephone-justice-for-pussy-riot/

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[1] Image: http://blog.heritage.org/wp-content/uploads/FreePussyRiot.jpg

[2] poll: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-29/pussy-riot-jail-term-rated-fair-by-most-russians-poll-shows.html

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