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Punk band trio victims of Kremlin crackdown

The prolonged detention of three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot shows just how unsafe the Kremlin feels in the wake of the continuing protests against the rigged presidential elections which Vladimir Putin 'won'.

At concerts over the weekend, singers Franz Ferdinand and the Red Hot Chili Peppers expressed support for the Pussy Riot band members who have been condemned to remain in a Russian jail for another nine months pending their trial on absurd charges.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alyokhina have languished in jail since March on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. Their rendering of “Blessed Virgin, Mother Mary, Drive Putin Out!”, in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral, has enraged ultra-reactionary church leaders as well as Putin.

Prosecution lawyer Mikhail Kuznetsov accused the young women of being “the tip of an iceberg of extremists, trying to break down the 1,000 year edifice of the Russian Orthodox Church by creating a schism, guiding the flock through trickery and cunning not to God but to Satan”. The decision to keep the trio in jail until next January was taken in a closed hearing at the end of last week.

If convicted on trumped up charges (former KGB officer Putin will know all about those), the three face up to seven years in prison. One of the women's lawyers, Mark Feigin, called the ruling illegal and described it as a show of force by the Kremlin in the face of growing calls for the women's release. "It's not a matter of law. It's not a matter of reason," he said.” It’s a way of saying, 'We can do what we want.'"

The ruling has to be seen as part of a series of sinister machinations aiming to roll back rights and freedoms so strongly asserted by Russians in recent years, particularly during the December 2011 protests. The last three months have seen brutal crackdowns all around the country.

When tens of thousands took to the streets on May 6 against Putin’s election victory, police detained over 600 people and assaulted many more. Fourteen people are charged with organising and participating in mass riots and violence against police officers.

Repression is widespread, and not only against political campaigners. Some 1,500 kilometres from Moscow, in Bashkortostan’s Prison Colony No. 4, 900 inmates are on hunger strike in protest against the beating to death by prison employees of Sergei Lasko on July 17.

A series of measures have targeted constitutional rights to freedom of speech, access to information, the right of assembly and association. On Friday just before the summer recess, the regime rushed through legislation which close observers of the Moscow scene are describing as an “anti-constitutional coup”.  

Putin has just signed a law which means that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who engage in political activity must register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents” and print it on all their publications – with the concomitant association of espionage and treachery. Failing to comply can mean six months’ suspension without a court order and up to three years in jail.

At risk are organisations like Amnesty, Transparency International which monitors corruption and the Golos (Voice) group, which collected and published allegations of last December’s election fraud. Golos’ deputy director Grigory Melkonyants says the law aims to make the work of NGOs more difficult, to intimidate and to blacken their image and disgrace them for getting money from abroad.

Of course the Russian Orthodox Church – which also receives money from abroad – is exempted from the law.

At the weekend, veteran human rights campaigner, Ludmila Alexeyeva celebrated her 85th birthday, saying the Russian state was “cruel to dissidents”, in what her supporters saw as a criticism of Putin’s regime. Ever the cynic, Putin sent her congratulations. But few are fooled by his attempts to gloss over the truth.

The May 6 committee is appealing for the widest possible publicity and support for its international day of action this Thursday. They believe that the fate of dozens of innocent protesters and those already in jail is at stake.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
23 July 2012

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