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Pussy Riot go on hunger strike in protest of 'unlawful' court

Published time: July 04, 2012 18:42
Edited time: July 05, 2012 16:40

Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), a member of female punk band, "Pussy Riot", looks out from a cage during a court hearing in Moscow July 4, 2012. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

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All three jailed activists of feminist-punk group Pussy Riot have declared a hunger strike in protest to the court limiting their time to study the prosecution’s case ahead of their trial.

­Moscow’s Tagansky Court limited the defense team’s time to study the case until July 9. Lawyers for the imprisoned activists had asked until September 1 to prepare for the trial hearings.

“I have studied only two volumes out of the seven. What I have studied proves there is no case against me. I need more time to study the materials, because my life depends on it,” announced Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the detainees.

“I declare a hunger strike, because this is unlawful.”

The prosecutors claimed the defense is merely playing for time, and trying to delay an inevitable legal ruling. The judge upheld their argument.

The three members of Pussy Riot each face up to seven years in prison on charges of hooliganism, following a brief masked guerrilla performance of a “blasphemous” song on the altar of Russia’s main church. The song’s lyrics attacked President Vladimir Putin and corruption within the Orthodox Church.

The original "punk prayer" (Photo from pussy-riot.livejournal.com)
The original "punk prayer" (Photo from pussy-riot.livejournal.com)

Senior clergymen were outraged, and thousands of signatures calling for the women to be imprisoned were collected in churches throughout Russia.

Initially set free, the three women were then arrested on criminal charges.

Hooliganism can be broadly interpreted, but the law is rarely used to prosecute public art performances. The criminal code defines hooliganism as “inciting hatred” with the “use of weapons” to create “public disorder.”

"It is harder and harder for the investigation to answer what they are jailed for," said Nikolai Polozov, a defense lawyer, outside the court.

"Basically their job now is to hold the trial as fast as possible, hand down a sentence and send them to a prison colony."

Outside the court, several Pussy Riot supporters locked themselves in a cage similar to the one used inside the courtroom to show symbolic support for the activists.

They were cut out of the cage by riot police and detained for participating in an unsanctioned rally.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has called the three women “prisoners of conscience,” and is campaigning for their immediate release.

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin called for the case to be classified as an administrative, not a criminal offense. The band would likely then face a fine.

Several socially conservative and even religious figures have also urged the courts to be “merciful” and not to make martyrs out of the atheist protesters.

Last week many of Russia’s leading artists and intellectuals – many of them public Putin supporters – signed a petition in support of Pussy Riot’s release. It was later presented to the public, and around 30,000 signatures have been collected so far.

Supporters of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot sit locked inside a mock defendants cage outside a Moscow court, on July 4, 2012, to support the musicians during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case. (AFP Photo/Andrey Smirnov)
Supporters of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot sit locked inside a mock defendants cage outside a Moscow court, on July 4, 2012, to support the musicians during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case. (AFP Photo/Andrey Smirnov)

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