World Leaders Slam Russia Over Pussy Riot Sentence

By webadmin on 11:28 am Aug 18, 2012
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The United States led global condemnation of the two-year sentences meted out to Russian punk band Pussy Riot, as supporters of the women grabbed balaclavas and took to the streets in protest around the world.

The United States on Friday called the sentences “disproportionate”, a criticism echoed by Britain, France and the European Union, which all used the same word in condemning the punishment handed down for the band’s “punk prayer” against Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

“The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences… and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”

Band members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were each found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for their February 21 protest in Moscow’s biggest cathedral.

In Britain, Alistair Burt, a junior foreign minister, said he was deeply concerned by Russia’s response to what he called “an expression of political belief.”

“We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way,” he said.

“Today’s verdict calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the sentences “excessively harsh” and chastised Russia for not living up to “the values of European law and democracy.”

“Dynamic civil society and politically active citizens are necessary for Russia’s modernization and are not a threat to the country,” she said.

In an unusually firm reaction, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Moscow to overturn the punishment.

“This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically-motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation,” Ashton said.

“I expect that this sentence will be reviewed and reversed in line with Russia’s international commitments,” she added, saying the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent, and independent legal process”.

French foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said the transgressions were “minor acts” when compared to the punishment. And officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe raised concern over a threat to freedom of expression.

Protesters meanwhile took to the streets in cities around the world, including London, Kiev, Barcelona, Sofia, Brussels, Paris, Vienna and New York.

Many protesters wore bright balaclavas, a tribute to the knitted face masks Pussy Riot wore at their now notorious protest.

In Ukraine, a topless feminist with the words “Free Riot” written above her breasts used a chainsaw to cut down a towering wooden cross erected in memory of the victims of Stalin’s repression.

In New York, six protesters were arrested for blocking traffic or, under a local law, for wearing face masks.

In London, around 50 people gathered at the Royal Court theater, which staged a mini-play entitled “Pussy Riots, the final verdict”, where actresses repeated the women’s arguments from their trial.

In Bulgaria, Sofia’s Soviet army monument got a brief facelift when protesters decorated its soldiers with balaclavas.

“Pussy Riot are an inspirational symbol of the fight for democracy in Russia,” the activists behind the stunt said in a message emailed to AFP.

“The whole international community, including Bulgarian authorities, support them against the attempts of the regime to shut their mouths.”

In Spain, about 50 young protesters rallied outside Barcelona’s emblematic Sagrada Familia church. In Brussels, 50 people gathered near the Russian embassy, and in Paris a protest drew around 200 people, including more young women wearing colorful hoods.

In Vienna, about 150 supporters with pink stockings pulled over their heads briefly protested inside the Austrian capital’s Roman Catholic cathedral. They were led away by church stewards.

Protesters had earlier demonstrated outside the city’s main theater, the Burgtheater.

The protests bolstered appeals from former Beatles star Paul McCartney, pop icon Madonna and a 10,000-person petition gathered by Amnesty International attacking Putin’s growing crackdown on dissent.

Agence France-Presse