Image The three detained members of Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, have seen the first week of their trial draw to a close. The women have now been imprisoned for over five months, and a lot has gone on this week, both inside and outside of the courtroom.
On Monday, the BBC reported that the three defendants; Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich; have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face, those charges being of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The maximum sentence for these charges, according to The Guardian, is seven years, with fewer than 1% of cases which reach trial in Russia concluding with a not-guilty verdict.

The women's defense began by reading out handwritten statements from the three, who sat together in a glass cage, chained shut with no less than three sets of handcuffs. The following is an excerpt from Ms Samutsevich's statement:

Our criminal case is political censorship from the side of the authorities, the start of a campaign of authoritarian, repressive measures aimed at lowering the level of political activism and provoking a feeling of fear among citizens who hold opposition views.

Ms Alyokhina's statement addressed the issue of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the role of Father Kirill, the patriarch of the organisation, and his steadfast support for the Putin regime:

Our goal was to bring attention to Father Kirill's public statements that the Orthodox must vote for Putin. I'm Orthodox but hold different political views and my question is: how am I to be? (...) I thought the church loved its children. It turns out the church only loves those children who believe in Putin.

In her round up of the week's events, Miriam Elder, a Moscow-based correspondent for the Guardian, was robust in her criticism of the authorities:

Guards, armed with submachine guns, grabbed journalists and threw them out of the room at will. The judge, perched in front of a shabby Russian flag, refused to look at the defence.

Elder's account is particularly damning to the presiding judge, Marina Syrova:

In one week, Syrova has refused to hear nearly all the objections brought by the defence. One objection claimed that exactly the same spelling errors were found in several witness statements, implying they were falsified.

Simon Shuster, a reporter for Time magazine, was also present, and tweeted the following:

As #pussyriot girls are led out for a bathroom break, Rottweiler is positioned by the door of their cage to bark and lunge at them. no words

Shuster's piece for Time's website neatly and concisely summed up the confusion and anger the case is causing:
Here were three feminist punk rockers in their 20s, with no prior criminal record, deemed too dangerous to receive bail, locked up for almost half a year, away from their families and young children, and facing long stints in prison for a crime that would earn them no more than a juridical wag of the finger just about anywhere else in the Western world.

Edward Lucas, author of Deception: Spies, Lies and how Russia dupes the West, wrote an utterly scathing column for the Telegraph this week, attacking the Putin regime on multiple fronts, particularly Putin's continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, framing that position, baffling to outsiders, as part of a wider paranoia, of which the Pussy Riot case, in his view, is only a part:

Western governments largely ignore what their intelligence services tell them: that the regime in Moscow is a criminal syndicate, fuelled by a noxious ideology of paranoia and supremacy. But in public, politicians such as David Cameron bow and scrape to Mr Putin, hoping for a few crumbs of trade and investment. The West is far too cash-strapped to stand up to Russia, and the Kremlin knows it.

Yet Russia's support for Syria can seem almost incomprehensible. Why risk such opprobrium in a doomed cause? The answer is the same as in the case of Pussy Riot. For all its contempt for the West, Russia's regime also feels cornered by it. It sees the opposition at home, and pro-democracy movements abroad, as part of the same threat. Mr Putin does not want to share the fate of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya - or, closer to home, the Ukrainian leadership toppled by the "Orange revolution" of 2005.

Its policy is not so much support for the regime in Damascus, as opposing Western attempts to overthrow it. Though it may seem ludicrous, many in Moscow believe that if Syria falls, Russia is the next target.

Add to all this the fact that Putin's regime recently signed into law a bill which requires all NGOs operating in Russia to register as "foreign agents" if they receive any outside funding, with the phrase to be shown prominently on all materials they produce, and Lucas' paranoia isn't necessarily proven, but it seems consistent with recent Russian state policy.

As for Vladimir Putin himself, he's in London, taking in some Olympic judo action with the Prime Minister. It is understood that, away from the cameras, senior Ministers are keen to convince Mr Putin to reconsider his approach to the Assad regime, and the continued bloodshed in Syria. What, though, does Mr Putin think about the Pussy Riot case? A report from the Guardian quotes him as follows:

There is nothing good in this. I wouldn't really like to comment, but I think if the girls were, let's say, in Israel, and insulted something in Israel … it wouldn't be so easy for them to leave. If they desecrated some Muslim holy site, we wouldn't even have had time to detain them. Nonetheless, I don't think they should be judged too severely for this, but the final decision rests with the courts - I hope the court will deliver a correct, well-founded ruling.

Putting aside Mr Putin's odd invoking of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and his insinuation that Muslim vigilantes would have prevented the women from seeing the inside of a prison cell, the members of Pussy Riot are not on trial for "desecrating" anything. They're on trial for putting balaclavas on, dancing in a church, and then dubbing music over the top and sticking the result on the internet. Essentially, these women are on trial for exercising their rights to freedom of conscience, association, and expression. They remain on trial, and yet Mr Putin talks about their case like they've already been found guilty. In a country with fewer than 1% of trials ending in acquittal, he may be right.

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