Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist protest and performance art group based in Moscow that became popular for its provocative punk rock music which later turned into a more accessible style. Founded in August 2011, it has had a membership of approximately 11 women. The group staged unauthorized, provocative guerrilla gigs in public places. These performances were filmed as music videos and posted on the internet. The group's lyrical themes included feminism, LGBT rights, opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies, and Putin's links to the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The group gained global notoriety when five members of the group staged a performance inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on February 21, 2012. The group's actions were condemned as sacrilegious by the Orthodox clergy and eventually stopped by church security officials. The women said their protest was directed at the Orthodox Church leaders' support for Putin during his election campaign. On March 3, 2012, two of the group's members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were arrested and charged with hooliganism. A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was arrested on March 16. Denied bail, the three were held in custody until their trial began in late July. On August 17, 2012, Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova were all convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and each sentenced to two years' imprisonment. On October 10, following an appeal, Samutsevich was freed on probation and her sentence suspended. The sentences of the other two women were upheld.
The trial and sentence attracted considerable attention and criticism, particularly in the West. The case was taken up by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, which designated the women as prisoners of conscience, and by a number of prominent entertainers. Public opinion in Russia was generally less sympathetic towards the band members. Having served 21 months, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released on December 23, 2013, after the State Duma approved an amnesty.
In February 2014, a statement was made anonymously on behalf of some Pussy Riot members that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were no longer members.However, both were among the group that performed as Pussy Riot during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where group members were attacked with whips and pepper spray by Cossacks employed as security guards. On March 6, 2014, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were assaulted and sprayed with green dye by local youths in Nizhny Novgorod.
Speaking as much to western European and North American audiences as to Russian ones, Pussy Riot anticipated Donald Trump's victory two weeks before the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election was declared and released "Make America Great Again", depicting a dystopian world where President Trump enforced his values through beatings, shaming, and branding by stormtroopers. In describing the video, Rolling Stone magazine noted that "jaunty, carefree music contrasts with the brutal events depicted on screen."
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