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Amnesty International recognizes Pussy Riot members as prisoners of conscience

4.04.12 16:41    By Gazeta.ru team


Amnesty International makes an assumption that the criminal prosecution of Pussy Riot members has a political background    Photo: ITAR-TASS


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Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has recognized jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot as prisoners of conscience and demand their immediate release.

"Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the three young women arrested by the Russian authorities as members of the punk group 'Pussy Riot' who staged a protest song in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on 21 February," the organization published in a statement on their website.
Amnesty International states that the jailed Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich admit that they are members of Pussy Riot, but deny performing in the Cathedral.

"Even if the three arrested women did take part in the protest, the severity of the response of the Russian authorities – detention on the serious criminal charge of hooliganism – would not be a justifiable response to the peaceful and, to many, offensive expression of their political beliefs. They would therefore be prisoners of conscience," the human rights activists wrote.


The international organization is making the assumption that the criminal prosecution of the Pussy Riot members has political motivations.
"The broader political context surrounding the anti-Putin protests at the time – and the anti-clerical, anti-Putin content of the activists' message (themselves unpunishable) – have clearly and unlawfully been taken into account in the charges that have been brought against them," AI noted.
The organization also adds that during the protest action the activists did not cause any damage to the Cathedral and they left the church when they were requested to do so.

None of the jailed Pussy Riot members know about their new status. According to their lawyers, the women might find out about it in the media (they have TV sets in their cells).

The arrested Pussy Riot activists are among the only Russian prisoners of conscience. The others are YUKOS case defendants – Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

They were granted this status in May 2011.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov, an activists from the protest group "Voina," noted that AI "does not request, but demands immediate release of the girls."

Tolokonnikova's lawyer, Mark Feygin, admitted that the status of prisoner of conscience may help Pussy Riot members get political asylum in any European county or in the USA. However, if any of Pussy Riot members (there are 30 of them) decides to apply for asylum, they will have to resolve the issue of their anonymity.
"It is hard to say whether they could automatically get political asylum, because the punk group was actually anonymous. It did not have names of members or songwriters. That is why the members will have to prove their membership in the group," Feygin said.

The status of prisoner of conscience, given by AI, does not offer any advantages apart from the fact that they draw additional international attention.

However, the word of AI as an organization, which has had consultative status with the UN for almost fifty years, can be very significant for United Nations human rights institutions such as the UN Council on Human Rights or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special reporters on combating torture, on women's issues, and on the freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

The AI director in Russia, Sergey Nikitin, agrees that there would unlikely be any official consequences of the organization's decision." However, those decisions that we make are known by Russian authorities and they influence them somehow," he said to Gazeta.ru.

Nikitin said, however, that he doubts that the Pussy Riot case may not necessarily attract UN human rights institutions. "They work according to pre-agreed procedures, visiting different countries on a schedule." The UN workers would unlikely visit Russia, because what is going on now seems "normal" for our country.
In February several members of the punk group 'Pussy Riot', with their faces covered in balaclavas, sang a protest song titled "Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin" in the Christ the Savior Cathedral. The Russian authorities subsequently arrested Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova on 4 March and Ekaterina Samusevich on 15 March claiming they were the masked singers.

The performance triggered mass scandal with human rights activists and religious adherents blaming, defending, and condemning the Pussy Riot members.

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