FREE PUSSY RIOT – DO WE REALLY NEED TO EXPLAIN WHY?

Three women are facing seven years in prison for voicing a political opinion. Yes, really.
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Three women are facing seven years in prison for voicing a political opinion. Yes, really.

Go ahead and call me a walking, talking, punk rock feminist cliché, but this particular xoJaner isn't particularly down with the idea of three young women facing jailtime for daring to stage a political protest. It's only 2012, after all. Maybe certain authorities think that these Russian women should just be grateful they are even allowed to vote.

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I’d like to say that the sign over my mouth is a visual statement of support for the silencing of Pussy Riot, but truthfully, I just can’t hold my iPhone properly. Let’s go with the first explanation.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, three members of Pussy Riot, were arrested 5 months ago on charges of hooliganism after performing a 'punk prayer' in a church, in protest against the fact that Orthodox Christians in Russia feel pressured to vote for Vladimir Putin. They now face up to seven years in prison as punishment for the heinous crime of voicing an opinion. Just to put this in context, you can serve less time for accidental murder in the UK (although I’m not a judge and to be honest this information is gleaned primarily from watching TV crime dramas.)

So a potential seven-year sentence for hooliganism - not rape, or murder, or even robbery - sounds logical and reasonable, right? *bangs head against wall*. These articulate, well-educated women (who are passing the time in prison by reading about the philosophy of punishment and composing addresses to the UN Secretary General) are clearly very dangerous indeed. The federal prosecutor stated at the beginning of the trial that "they must be isolated from society," in case they might ‘strike’ again. Lock up your children, people – there’s some women on the loose, and they’ve got opinions! Run for your lives!

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Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is defiant behind bars at a court hearing in Moscow

Speaking of being isolated from society, let's consider the trial for one highly democratic minute. The authorities have deemed essential to sit the accused peaceful protestors inside a locked glass box guarded by arm police. 'Peaceful' - key word there. Wait, did I forget to mention the police Rottweiler? Every good court should have one!

The accused Pussy Riot members are being incredibly strong in the face of their outrageously unfair treatment – it’s inspiring to witness how they operate with intelligence and decorum, something that should logically stand them in good stead in any other court room. They have already apologised for offending any Orthodox believers with their protest, and their only attempt at making a fuss has been a five-day hunger strike.

Their band members have spoken to various newspapers around the world and explained that they knew what they were getting into when they signed up to Pussy Riot, which makes them even more courageous. "We knew what the political situation was but now we're personally feeling the full force of Putin's Kafka-esque machine," they said. "The state's policy is based on a minimum of critical thinking and on a maximum of spite, and a desire to get even with those who don't please it."

What kind of justice system operates around a ‘getting even’ system? Have we suddenly regressed to the Middle Ages? It’s not like the rest of the world isn’t making loud noises in Russia’s direction. It’s as though we have got megaphones and are shouting at the Russian government to take a long hard look at themselves, but they are doing the political equivalent of putting their fingers in their ears and putting their head under a pillow. Real mature, guys.

The Pussy Riot case has been put to the European Court of Human Rights (who are prioritising it! At last, some common sense), the European Union have made a statement expressing their concern and punk rock fan/British MP Kerry McCarthy brought it up in the Houses of Parliament. On a side note: I live for the day I see Cameron and Clegg in matching neon balaclavas.

Government authorities are important, but international musicians have also been supporting the cause. Anti-Flag have released their own version of the Pussy Riot punk prayer, and explained that “the Russian authorities’ actions against Pussy Riot are clearly an attack on freedom of thought, opinion and artistic expression which must be protected for any society to be free”.

UK musicians including Jarvis Cocker (a.k.a the wisest man in pop and generally brilliant human being) Kate Nash and Johnny Marr all signed a letter offering their support. Last week, the queen of rock ‘n roll, Patti Smith, held up a t-shirt saying “Putin has pissed himself. Free Pussy Riot”. Now when Patti speaks, the world could do worse than to shut the hell up and listen. Even Madonna, that former mistress of controversy, finally stepped up to the plate and spoke out at one of her concerts about the trial, as well as whipping off her jacket to display Pussy Riot written on her back. More of that kind of thing please, Madge, less of the boob exposure. Thanks.

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Kate Nash is encouraging her fans to send in their Free Pussy Riot artwork on her Facebook page

The most ironic fact to come out of this trial? Putin himself, the very person who Pussy Riot were protesting against, told the UK media this week that "I don't think that a verdict should be very severe. I hope that the court will make a fair, well-founded ruling." It’s a loaded comment, of course, but it still demonstrates the stupidity of the situation.

Other members of Pussy Riot had something to say on the matter to the Guardian: "Putin is scared of us, can you imagine? Scared of girls. The most important dictator, Putin, is really afraid of people. More specifically, he's afraid of Pussy Riot. Afraid of a bunch of young, positive, optimistic women unafraid to speak their minds."

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Which is, of course, the point. We can’t live in a world where it’s still possible for people to be punished for voicing an opinion. I know that, the rest of the xoJane girls know that, international governments and the musician community know that – now we’re just waiting on the Russian authorities to catch up. Pussy Riot certainly aren’t going to give up, because in their own words, they can’t. "We don't have a choice. We want to change our country." Brave girls, we’re on your side.

The three accused members of Pussy Riot have just had their pre-trial detention extended until 2013. One of the women is just 22 years old. Two of them have young children. For more information and to help, visit http://freepussyriot.org/