Trial on "Pussy Riot" starts, defendants admit "ethical mistake"
31.07.12 14:22 By Darya Zagvozdina, edited by Karina Ayvazova
Pussy Riot supporters gathered near the Khamovniki court on Monday Photo: DENIS VYSHINSKY/KOMMERSANT
The long awaited 'punk-prayer' trial of the three members of the Russian punk band "Pussy Riot" got undreway on Monday. Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich face up to 7 years in prison for an unauthorized performance in Russia's main church – the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in February 2012. During the "punk-prayer," the women climbed up the church's altar and sang a song calling on the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out." The three have been charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility."
On Monday, Judge Marina Syrova started the session in the Moscow Khamovniki court, where Mikhail Khodorkovskiy's trial took place in 2010.
Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Samutsevich were put into a plastic cage installed in the court room, secured by a guard. Three defense lawyers – Mark Feygin, Nikolay Polozov and Violetta Volkova sat in front of them. The prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov was sitting on the other side of the court room along with the nine "victims" of the "punk-prayer" and their lawyers.
The session was started by the state prosecutor who discussed the complainants' request to prohibit any photo or video shooting of the trial or online broadcasting through the internet.
"The trial has gained too much publicity and has divided the society into two parts," the prosecutor said, adding that it might threaten the calmness of the trial participants.
"If this request is satisfied by the judge, it will violate the openness principle and will make the trial closed," Maria Alekhina almost shouted from the glass box. She also expressed a motion to be allowed to learn the real evidence
The lawyer Violetta Volkova then started to read out the addresses of her clients, in spite of the protests of the judge who thought it was not the right time.
"The themes of our songs and performances are dictated by the time," with these words started her letter Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
She said Pussy Riot and orthodox Christians have the same principle in life: mercy, grace, and love for thy neighbors.
Tolokonnikova, however, is concerned over the actions of the Russian Church's head, Patriarch Kirill. For example, she does not approve of Kirill openly supporting President Vladimir Putin. Tolokonnikov explained her actions in the Cathedral by her discontent with the close ties between the state and the church. "We have our principles in life. One of them is to always tell the truth. The truth is more precious than freedom," Tolokonnikova wrote. "The fact that we do not admit guilt does not mean that we are not ready to apologize for making an ethical mistake by allowing our art in the church," Tolokonnikova wrote.
Maria Alekhina wrote that through the 'punk-prayer' she and her friends tried to address the patriarch Kirill. " I thought that the church loves its children, but it seems that it only loves those who vote for Putin," the lawyer read out Alekhina's words. Just like Tolokonnikova, Alekhina apologized for what they did.
"When we were doing this, we were not aware of the church rules. Now that we have spent five months behind bars, we finally learned those rules," she added.
In her letter, Ekaterina Samutsevich made an accent on the political motives of the 'punk-prayer.' "The main thing here is the political protest against the illegitimate election and the support of Putin by the patriarch Kirill."
The sincere letters did not appear to make an impression on the prosecutor Nikiforov, Instead he said that Volkova's decision to read out her clients' letters were aimed to deliberately drag out the trial. He added that by reading the letters Volkova "tried to impress the media."
After a short pause, Judge Syrova confirmed the motion to cancel the web-broadcasting of the trial and continued.
The prosecutor read out the indictment. The judge addressed the defendants whether they understood the indictment. Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich replied that they did. Alekhina said that she did not understand anything. an excerpt from that conversation:
"-Do you admit guilt?"
"- I cannot admit guilt, I do not understand the indictment!"
"- You are college bred!"
"- I have not finished college yet, and I am a journalist, not a lawyer!"
The defendants once again admitted that they were in the Cathedral and they sang there, but their motive was not based on the religious hatred or hostility. It was purely political.
After hearing the defendants the judge started interrogating the complainants.
The first to tell her story was Lyubov Sokologorskaya, one of Cathedral's staff members.
She said that during the 'punk-prayer' she addressed God and prayed that "this all would finish as soon as possible." "This abused my ideals, my faith and myself as an individual," she added.
The lawyer Polozov started to ask questions to Sokologorskaya. "Why did you decide to re-watch the video of the 'punk-prayer' and cause moral pain to yourself?" he asked. " I did not want to be uninformed," she replied. "Did you try to go to a therapist?" Polozov continued sarcastically. "God is stronger than any therapist," Sokologorskaya replied.
The complainant called the Pussy Riot performance "devilish dancing, body movement and abusing action."
"What is devilish dancing?" lawyer Feygin asked.
"I disallow the question!" the judge said.
"Does she really know how devils dance?" lawyer Volkova asked and received a judge's comment.
The defendants also tried to ask Sokologorskaya their questions, but they all were disallowed.
The next complainant to address the court was Denis Istomin, a churchgoer. "I am not resentful. We, the Orthodox Christians are all like that," he said.
"Everything would change if only they would apologize," Istomin said. "I apologized two hours ago," Tolokonnikova replied.
"I do not believe your apologies, they are just words," Istomin said.
The next complainant was Vasiliy Tsiganyuk, an altar worker. Tsiganyuk said that in his opinion the 'punk-prayer' was "a mockery and violation of a sacred place."
Tsiganyuk's interrogation was postponed until the next day. The judge suspended the trial session for 12 hours.
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