Image The Guardian is reporting that the human rights organisation Amnesty International has called for three members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot to be released from custody. The three women have been held since March.

Readers may remember Punknews reporting on the situation.
The following excerpts are taken from Amnesty's official statement on the matter, which can be read in full here.

On events thus far, and the charges the Russian authorities have brought against the three women:

'Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of 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.

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 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. Although the three women admit to being members of the larger ‚??Pussy Riot‚?? group, they deny any involvement in the particular protest in the cathedral.

The three women are currently in pre-trial detention until 25 April. They have been charged with hooliganism under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Article 213), which carries a maximum sentence of seven years‚?? imprisonment.'

On the nature of their imprisonment, when viewed in the context of European law:

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

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that freedom of expression applies not only to inoffensive ideas, "but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population".

On the intrusion of political and religious concerns into the case, accusations of incitement to hatred, and Amnesty's concerns and expectations:

'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.

Although a representative of the Orthodox Church initially called for mercy for the protestors, subsequent statements by representatives of the Church have called for harsh punishment and for the women to be prosecuted for inciting hatred on grounds of religion. The women‚??s relatives have reportedly also received anonymous death threats.

Amnesty International is concerned that such statements are heightening the public and political pressures around this case. Instead of prosecuting members of ‚??Pussy Riot‚?? for their political opinions criticizing the Russian government and some Church officials, the Russian authorities must recognize that their protest is protected by the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed in international human rights law, drop the charges of hooliganism against Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich, and release them immediately and unconditionally.


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