Free the Pussy Rioters!

Via the New York Times:

MOSCOW — When four young women in balaclavas performed a crude anti-Putin song on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February, it seemed like just one more episode in a season of audacious, absurdist and occasionally offensive protest.

Instead, the case of the young punk rockers, whose group is called Pussy Riot, is becoming a bellwether event in the Russian capital, signaling an end to the chilly tolerance the Kremlin displayed in response to the winter’s large demonstrations.
The three women arrested after the performance have been held in custody for more than four months, a term that was extended on Friday by six months, through next January. They could be sent to prison for seven years.

Preliminary hearings in the case offered some of the most striking courtroom images since the trial of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, which took place in the same building. While that case tested Russians’ feelings toward a billionaire businessman, this one picks as its targets slender young women with hooded sweatshirts and Twitter accounts — avatars of the protest movement itself.

Stupid form of protest, but sledgehammers and nuts come to mind.

And then there’s this:

The criminal prosecution of the three women — Maria Alyokhina, 24; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — rests on the notion that their performance incited religious hatred. That argument is supported by Orthodox activists who say the women are Satanists. Ten witnesses have said they suffered “moral damage” as a result and are considered victims in the court proceeding, as is standard in Russia. One, a cathedral security guard, “had trouble sleeping after the crime in the cathedral,” said his lawyer, Mikhail Kuznetsov, in an interview with the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti.

The band, Mr. Kuznetsov said, “is only a tiny visible tip of the iceberg of extremists who are trying to destroy the thousand-year-old basis of the Russian Orthodox Church, provoking a schism, and using lies to lead the flock not to God but to Satan.”
…A poll released on Friday by the independent Levada Center found that a substantial proportion of Muscovites, 37 percent, took a positive view of the prosecution, and 50 percent had a negative view.

“When it began to turn into this fantastic biblical story, social attitudes toward the girls changed radically,” said Marat Guelman, a former political consultant and gallery owner whose projects have been denounced by religious activists.

“Most of the population now are not so much talking about what Pussy Riot did as much as their fear that these people who want to introduce some kind of Orthodox Taliban to Russia, that they will take power,” Mr. Guelman said. “So now I think the authorities are making a big mistake, taking revenge in this way. Society will not support this.”

Whether he is right will become clear only gradually, as state-controlled television reports on the prosecution of the three women, two of them mothers of small children. So far, the case has aroused intense interest only on the extremes of the political spectrum, a fact reflected on Friday outside the courthouse, where protesters wearing white ribbons tried to shout down Orthodox activists carrying Bibles…

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