Pussy Riot trial: Defendants claim 'torture,' accuse judge of bias

Pussy Riot’s lawyers accuse the trial's judge of “torturing” the three defendants, who they say have barely had any sleep or food since Monday. As the trial resumes, prosecution witnesses claim severe moral wounds and reluctance to forgive the girls.

The hot July day in a Moscow court started with a short but desperate fight among journalists as the proceedings over the three members of punk band Pussy Riot were relocated to a much smaller room than the one used Monday. Only ten places in the room were left for reporters; the most persistent ones continued their reports via Twitter, since pictures and videography were banned.

The session kicked off with the defense almost immediately attempting to file a motion to change the judge. The court shrugged the request off, as it had “ruled on a similar motion on Monday evening.” Still, three hours later, the defense succeeded. 

The core reason behind the motion, Pussy Riot’s lawyers said, was that their clients were being subjected to “torture” because of the way the court proceedings were organized.

The lawyers maintained that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich went to bed late after the previous day's trial ended at ten in the evening, and were woken up early and hadn’t been fed since. Correspondents tweeting from the courtroom said that by the end of the day, the girls were literally falling asleep in their tiny bullet proof booth.

In response, the defendants were accused of purposely drawing out the trial.

The defendants only prolonged the investigation, claiming that they were held in custody for too long and contesting the terms of their arrest,” said prosecutor Larisa Pavlova, adding that the defense’s appeal was nothing but “playing to the gallery.

The motion failed with the judge, who added that there would be breaks for lunch and the opportunity to have a nap during the trial.

Apologies not accepted

Many in the courtroom rustled through their Bibles, and Tuesday generally went under the refrain “Do you accept our apology?

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are accused of "hooliganism, motivated by religious hatred and hostility" for performing a mock prayer “Virgin Mary, banish Putin” in Moscow’s main cathedral in February.

On Monday, the three girls said in a statement that they did not mean to insult any religious feelings and that their motives were purely political. They expressed regret for their “ethical mistake” and said they were sorry for taking their action to the cathedral.

But as the court listened to the nine “victims” – people aggrieved by Pussy Riot’s performance – it appeared none of them really believed the apology was sincere.  

Thus, Tatyana Anosova, who collects donations and gives out candles in the cathedral, said: “They did not merely insult me, they spat into my face, spat into the face of my God.

One of them was bowing with her back turned onto the altar – she was showing her bottom to the altar, and it is God who’s there! My soul was torn to pieces.”

The defense posed provocative questions, pressing onto witnesses that forgiveness is a Christian value, and trying to figure out what exactly would constitute a sincere apology. This was transformed into a fierce battle, with the judge occasionally banning questions before they were even fully uttered.

To make a credible apology, the witnesses nevertheless said, “you should not smile,” “you should not deliver it through a statement,” “you should get baptized.” One of them even advised the girls to go to the convent, take vows and beat themselves with shatters.

Many of the witnesses told the court that Pussy Riot’s “diabolic dances in a sacred place” had affected them so much they had to skip work. Still, none of them wanted financial compensation, leaving the punishment “to the court and God.

If the court supports the prosecutors’ charges, Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich will face up to seven years in prison, according to Russia's Criminal Code.

Claims of forged evidence

The session wrapped up with an unexpected dispute over whether prosecutors had made mistakes with the evidence. One of the books used in the case proved to be 100 pages longer than it was expected to be.

Moreover, the prosecution witnesses’ evidence was suspected of being copy-and-pasted from one and the same document. The defense pointed to paragraphs copied word for word – with the same spelling mistakes.

But the judge said the books often get recompiled and, as for the evidence, if the witnesses do not mind this, then this is not a case for an appeal. Witnesses did not mind.

Still the defense is going to lodge a complaint.

The trial will resume on Wednesday, with interviews of the witnesses for the defense, who include the father of Ekaterina Samutsevich.

Stephen Fry joins Pussy Riot’s supporters

Meanwhile, outside the courtroom Pussy Riot’s supporters brandished balloons with “Free Pussy Riot” emblazoned on them. However, during the course of the day their protests lost momentum and they resorted to lying on the grass waiting for the session to finish.

From the international perspective, British actor and comedian Stephen Fry has appealed to his Twitter followers, calling them to “do everything they could to help Pussy Riot.”

Fry’s message comes on top of similar calls from musicians like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sting urging for the release of the punk rockers.