Three young female punk rockers in Moscow are facing years in prison for protesting in song Vladmir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. Dressed in ski masks and outlandishly colored mini-skirts, the Pussy Riot band hopped, danced and high-kicked as they let their hopes and feelings about Putin be known:
“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away.
Put Putin away, put Putin away.”
“I am not afraid of your poorly concealed fraud of a verdict in this so-called court because it can deprive me of my freedom,” Maria Alyokhina, 24, one of the accused, said. “No one will take my inner freedom away.”
The women addressed the court from a glass and metal cage. The verdict will be issued on Aug. 17.
Another of the accused, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, expressed gratitude for the international support they had received, including a nod from the American singing icon Madonna. During a concert in Moscow on Tuesday, Madonna stripped down to a black bra and showed the name of the band, Pussy Riot, emblazoned upon her back.
The women must consider themselves victorious if their objective was to gain international attention and divide Russian society. Many say the women deserve severe punishment, not because of their loud objections to Putin, but for their choice of venue in making their objections -- the Russian Orthodox Church. Still others believe that they are being punished for their political beliefs and that since they’ve already been in jail for five months, they should now be released.
In a move that does not particularly help their cause or their case, the three women have publicly declared that one of their objectives was to highlight and denounce the Church’s support for Putin.
Pussy Riot first gained notoriety earlier this winter during anti-Putin protests, when a video of their performance on Red Square went viral. They stood on a platform formerly used by Czars to issue decrees, and belted out a song called "Putin Got Scared":
“Revolt in Russia – the charisma of protest
Revolt in Russia – Putin got scared
Revolt in Russia – We exist!
Revolt in Russia – Riot! Riot!”
Pussy Riot is an all-women collective formed specifically to protest Putin’s return to power. It has organized demonstrations of up to 100,000 people.
The prosecution has called for a three-year prison sentence for each woman. They argue that ”hooliganism” carries a maximum sentence of seven years, and that the young women would be getting off lightly with a three-year sentence. The prosecution noted that two of the women have young children and are reportedly of "good character."
Putin himself has criticized the punk rockers, but allowed that their punishment should not be "too severe." Putin made statements that were certainly self-serving, and very possibly racially- or perhaps just culturally-tinged, during a visit to the London Olympics last week. He hinted that the three women should be grateful they had not performed their protests in the predominantly Muslim Russian Caucasus.
"If they had desecrated some Islamic holy site, we wouldn't even have had time to take them into custody," Putin said. Under Putin, Russia has doubled-down on street protests, internet use, and introduced new, stricter rules for foreign-funded lobbying groups.
The case against the three women – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – ended on Wednesday. Again, a verdict/sentencing is expected on Aug. 17.