And the band played on: Pussy Riot appeal hearing continues

Members of the female punk band "Pussy Riot". (Reuters / Maxim Shemetov)
The appeal hearing for the three jailed members of punk rock activist group Pussy Riot is scheduled to resume Wednesday after being postponed last week. The delay came after one of the women made an unexpected request for new counsel.

Yekaterina Samustevich made her surprise announcement during the October 1 hearing, claiming that her position in the case differed from that of her attorney’s; she did not elaborate further on the statement. As the judge deliberated whether or not to continue the hearing, the women argued that it would be impossible to continue if one of them was not represented by an attorney.

The court ruled that Samutsevich should be granted her recusal and postponed the hearing until October 10, at which point she will appear with a new lawyer.

“This is unexpected,” Mark Feygin, defense lawyer for Pussy Riot said after the hearing. “We are not in a position to comment on her actions, but we continue to represent Maria Alyohina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova."

The delay is the latest chapter in a trial that has become a global media circus, turning the three women into international celebrities – the ‘Pussy Riot’ name is now a registered trademark, and ‘Free Pussy Riot’ T-shirts are selling out in the West. Amnesty International and several Russian and Western celebrities have called for their release. One major Russian concert organizer said their company was flooded with calls from foreign promoters offering to organize a Pussy Riot world tour that could net up to 600 million euros.

Amid this torrent of media attention, some have called into question the underlying motives behind the band’s now-infamous ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s largest cathedral.

Three weeks before their stunt in the Christ the Savior church, the band performed a song insulting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Red Square. However, after receiving little response from the public or the authorities, the group took their act to a more controversial venue. 

“That’s the way you attract attention,” author and Russia analyst Martin McCauley told RT. “They obviously looked at famous pop-stars around the world – look at the way Madonna’s dressed, look at all the others… and they hit on the idea that going in to the cathedral and singing their blasphemous songs would be something outrageous.”

After they stormed the church altar for a performance – replete with swearing and gyrating – asking the Virgin Mary to “redeem” Russia from Putin, three of the women were arrested and put on trial; they were each sentenced at the end of August to 2 years in jail.

“There is no defense in this case. It’s simple PR,” Russian lawyer Shota Gorgadze said. “The lawyers aren’t clocking up on hourly fee – they’re working towards the brand, in order to capitalize on it in the future. And it's worked. I think 2 years in prison, for the crime they committed is too harsh. But at the same time I can see that their lawyers did everything, in order to get them those 2 years in prison."

It is not known whether a deep rift runs between Samutsevich and her fellow members of Pussy Riot, or if her request is just an attempt to prolong the media attention and controversy surrounding the trial.