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‘Let Pussy Riot Go!’ Veteran Russian HR group speaks out

Published time: July 23, 2012 11:51
Edited time: July 23, 2012 23:40

Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (C), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow on July 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Andrey Smirnov)

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The head of Russia’s oldest Human Rights Group has called on the authorities to free the members of the Pussy Riot punk group and compensate the girls for the 6 months they have spent in pre-trial custody.

“They must be released, they must be apologized to, they must receive compensation for the time they’ve spent in custody,” the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, told the press. “Is it sane to keep people under arrest for such a petty offence? Even more so given some of them have small children,” she added.

The activist went on to say that the scandal was hurting the reputation of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Federation as a whole. “This case has a political background. It shows the whole world that, despite the fact that the Constitution divides the church and the state in our country, in reality this is far from being so,” Alekseyeva noted. “Let a priest tell the girls that they had done a bad thing instead of throwing the whole repressive machine of the state against them,” the HR veteran concluded.

On Monday a district court in Moscow continued the hearing into the case of the three members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band. The women stand accused of performing their punk anthem “Mother of God send Putin away” in Moscow’s main cathedral. Last week a judge prolonged the term their pre-trial custody by six months after they had already spent six months in jail. The women face a maximum of seven years in jail on hooliganism charges, including time served. Prior to the decision to extend their detention, the suspects went on hunger strike to protest against the "unlawful" court.

The controversial trial has sparked a heated debate in Russia and abroad, with many slamming the case as politically motivated. Advocates of Pussy Riot range from the head of Russia’s Presidential Council for Human Rights to rock and pop icons. Members of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Franz Ferdinand both donned Pussy Riot shirts while performing in Moscow.

The case had led to heated debates and street protests, including one self-crucifixion in St. Petersburg.

Pussy Riot's defense team announced that they had prepared a letter for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, asking the UN's Human Rights Committee to review the case. They don't expect a fair trial and say investigators are finding it increasingly difficult to answer what their clients have been jailed for.

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