Russian society divided on Pussy Riot trial

Moscow : Russian riot policemen detain a supporter of all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" near a court building in Moscow on Agust 17, 2012.
Politicians and public figures in Russia are divided in their opinions on the trial and verdict of Pussy Riot, but almost everyone agrees that the process has attracted unprecedented attention.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his opinion one day before the verdict was announced in a media interview. “I firmly stand on my position that the whole process was an absolutely unnecessary initiative,” he said. “This is not a case that should go to court. It could be instead considered by such an authoritative body as the Public Chamber.”

The deputy head of Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization located in Moscow, said the Pussy Riot case had drawn more response than even the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the more recent case of Sergey Magnitsky.

"We have not yet seen such a public campaign and such public response,” Tatyana Lokshina was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. “The cases involving Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky did not draw such public response."

As a guilty verdict against the three members of Pussy Riot was announced, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, called the court decision was unjust. “As most of the politically motivated trials this trial does not conform with law, common sense or mercy,” Alekseyeva said, adding that a guilty verdict was predictable considering that those who are put in pre-trial custody meet such a fate.

Meanwhile, the founder of the pro-democracy opposition party Yabloko, Grigoriy Yavlinskiy, took a more balanced position.

Believers can neither accept the use of their churches as venues for political protest actions, nor wish for a prison sentence for the girls, Yavlinsky said in an official statement.

“It is a pity that it took the girls six months to apologize to the believers,” he added.

Yavlinsky said that while every religion should be protected, the citizens’ right to the freedom of speech and peaceful political protest should also be protected.

The politician said that in his view the authorities sought to intimidate society in the course of the trial, but intimidation was not a solution in this case.

“It is possible that by means of fear they will push the process underground for some time, but it will not disappear and under certain circumstances it will re-surface in a more radical and dangerous form,” Yavlinsky beleives.

The politician said that in his view a prison for the members of the punk rock band, while forcing a spirit on non-forgiveness and revenge, will bring much more harm to society than the group’s original performance in the church.

Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner, said the sentence handed down to the members of the Pussy Riot group was unfair and promised to support the appeal.

"I don't think these singers have committed a crime,” he told reporters. “They committed a serious offence. I am still convinced that they cannot be punished under criminal law, only administrative code."

Attorney at law, Anatoly Kucherena, who is a member of the Public Chamber, said that though all three girls were “undoubtedly” guilty, trying the girls in a criminal court “was an excessive measure,” suggesting that instead of a prison sentence the society chose a public flogging.

The lawyer added that the public resonance around the legal deliberations showed that Russian society was not indifferent. He added that he personally knew people who were insulted by the punks’ stunt.

Kucherena said he disagreed with those who saw political calculations behind the legal process.

“Whatever I read and whatever I hear everyone claims that politics is to blame for the instigation of the criminal case,” he said. “I have absolutely no belief in this.”

State Duma deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov, who currently represents the opposition faction Just Russia, said that he supported both the trial and the verdict.

“The process has become politicized, this is clear,” Mitrofanov said. “But to understand what they are tried for, I recommend that you listen to their song “Tahrir” – this is extremism and a person can do time for this.”

They threw themselves into politics and its cruel here, the MP added.

A large group of people gathered near the court where the verdict was announced; at one point the tensions got so high that police had to detain members of the crowd.

About 60 protesters – comprised of people who were both for and against the punk band trio – were detained.

Police reported that opposition leader Garry Kasparov bit a policeman during his detention, forcing the injured policeman to seek medical attention.

Kasparov dismissed the allegations as a “madman’s delirium”.

Meanwhile, Andrey Isayev, a top official of the majority party United Russia, said the sentence handed down to the members of the Pussy Riot trial was harsh, but the majority of Russians would consider it fair.

Another United Russia official, deputy secretary Aleksey Chesnakov, said the sentence was adequate to the offense and corresponded to the “current state of public attitudes” toward such offenses.

The verdict must become “a warning to all fans of various provocations,” he added.

The politician stressed that “respect for other people’s feelings and opinions is an inseparable trait of a developed democracy,” much in the same way that “the inevitability of punishment (for a crime) is an inseparable part of law.”