Pussy Riot Members Free Under Putin Amnesty!

Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina was freed from a prison in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia under amnesty granted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. She and fellow Pussy Riot member  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had three months remaining on their two year sentence for

hooliganism motivated by religious hatred

stemming from their “punk prayer” protest of Putin’s policies at Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow’s main cathedral. The band played a song critical of the support given Putin by Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill I.

A third member of the punk rock band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had her sentence overturned on appeal.

Tolokonnikova was released later on Monday and told CNN

she felt that the amnesty was a publicity stunt to bolster the government’s image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in February.

Her husband Pyotr Verzilov  said:

Two months out of the almost two years that the girls have served is not much. So the effect of this amnesty for Maria and Nadezhda is not really felt..President Putin obviously used this amnesty option to (brighten) up his image before the Olympic games.

Pussy Riot’s future as a band is unclear.

Putin’s amnesty program, which is said to celebrate 20 years of the Russian Constitution, is timed nicely with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Greenpeace activists are among the prisoners who will be given amnesty.

Pussy Riot To Be Freed: Amnesty for Russian Punk Band, Greenpeace Protestors and Others

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are being freed under the amnesty bill being submitted by Vladimir Putin to the Duma, the Russian parliament, on Monday December 9, to mark the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on Thursday. Nadya’s husband Pyotr Verzilov confirmed the rumors to The Voice Project:

It’s from the Kremlin and official already, they will be freed. We do not know yet when this will happen, because it is unclear when the bill will be voted by the Duma and how fast it will be applied to prisons – could be from 2 weeks to 2 months until they are freed.

The Voice Project also reports that Nadya’s father Andrei has also been able to confirm this from “reliable sources.” Nadya was moved to Siberia in November after protesting conditions and going on a hunger strike at her previous penal colony in Morodovia. She is now hospitalized in a Siberian prison facility, Regional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1.

The BBC reports that Putin may also free the Greenpeace Arctic 30 campaigners currently on bail and facing trial on (reduced) charges of hooliganism, as well as some of the opposition activists involved in unrest in May 2012.

This all feels like a Putin move to make Russia seem less yucky-looking in the buildup to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Simone Baumann’s film Putin’s Game, documenting charges of threats, corruption, and environmental damage is screening throughout Europe. Pussy Riot jailed, Greenpeace activists facing trial, “gay propaganda” banned and LGBTQ beaten, Elton John (finally) speaking out about anti-gay discrimination in Russia. From the stage. While performing a concert in Moscow. Add in a boycott of Smirnoff vodka and Putin had to do something.

In a surprising move, NBC has named the New Yorker’s editor and a former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, David Remnick as a guest correspondent:

Remnick said NBC had guaranteed him editorial independence with his commentary, including such politically charged issues as gay rights and the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. “There is nothing in the world — and I know they don’t intend to hinder me in this way — where I would not be honest in my analysis,” Remnick said. “It would be a waste of everyone’s integrity and time if otherwise.”

Meanwhile, it could be a very happy new year for Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, and other jailed Russian activists. (more…)

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Has Disappeared

Without much fanfare Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova has disappeared.

Her family has yet to hear from her following a prison transfer on October 21st.

Originally reported and announced on November 1st– today marks the 19th day that her husband Pyotr Verzilov has been in the dark as to her actual location.

Verzilov has information that leads him to believe that Nadya has been moved to a Siberian prison as a sort of punishment stating:

“They do not have the ability to put on the usual psychological or physical pressure they can use with inmates because of the high profile of the case. So they have chosen this as the punishment instead.

Nadya launched a widely covered hunger strike this past September protesting prison treatment. She’s currently serving a two year sentence for “hooliganism” after her band Pussy Riot performed an anti-Putin song inside a Moscow church.

As the New York Times reports, the initial hunger strike was called off after Nadya’s hospitalization ten days later, at which point she was under the belief that she would be transferred to a new prison.  When the transfer didn’t take place she attempted another hunger strike and then disappeared.  Her family has been told that she’s being transferred to a new prison and while it’s not unusual for inmates to go without contact during a prison transfer – Nadya’s family should be informed of her new whereabouts within ten days of her arriving – the nature of her case and fact that Russian authorities don’t take kindly to dissidents makes the past 19 days of silence particularly deafening.

The BBC reports that yesterday Amnesty International intervened to urge Russian authorities to allow Nadya contact with a lawyer and to give her family information on her whereabouts.  Her lawyer Irinia Khrunova has filed an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court but also confirms that she has not been able to speak to Nadya because “they are hiding her.”

Speaking to The GuardianRussian human rights ombudsman Vladmir Lukin says that he’s been told by Russian officials that Nadya is in “satisfactory health” and was transferred to a new prison.

Still, those reports have not been confirmed by her actual family who is still frantically trying to contact her. Verzilov is continuing to post updates from Twitter through the handle @gruppa_voina.

A petition from watchdog.net demanding information on her whereabouts currently has nearly 37,000 signatures.

Today marks Nadya’s 24th birthday.

We hope she’s heard from soon. (more…)

Pussy Riot Member Launches Hunger Strike Protesting Prison Conditions

Effective today Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of Feminist punk rock outfit Pussy Riot, is undergoing a hunger strike to protest conditions at the Mordovia prison camp where she’s being held.

Currently serving a two year sentence for staging a concert demonstration outside Moscow’s main cathedral in protest of Vladimir Putin, in an open letter published by The Guardian she offers a lengthy and devastating account of her experiences.

24 year old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is one of the three members of Pussy Riot arrested and tried in 2012 alongside Yekaterina Samutsevich (known as Katya), 31, and Maria Alekhina, 25. This past February, Katya was released because she’d been arrested prior to participating in the actual performance. Maria continues to serve time and was denied parole this past July.  The three members were the subject of a documentary that aired on HBO this year.  The film profiles the three members and shadows them throughout the trial – which ended with them being convicted of ”premeditated hooliganism” that was “motivated by religious hatred or hostility”, but not before captivating a global audience.

At 24 years old Tolokonnikova is often fingered as the ringleader of Pussy Riot.  In the documentary of the group’s efforts she was referred to by one Russian critic as “a demon with a brain.”

With a reputation that preceded her, Tolokonnikova notes that upon entering the camp she was greeted by Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, head administrator at Mordovia – a location known for its dire conditions – who informed her that “we have broken stronger wills than yours.”

Her lengthy and frank assessment of the conditions at Mordovia reads like a field report;

My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends “out of [their] own desire”. In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it.

She goes on to discuss conditions that pit inmates against each other with unofficial punishments.  She tells a story of a fellow inmates who had limbs amputated from being left out in the cold as punishment.  Another was beaten to death by a fellow inmate. After filing a report in May of 2013, she notes that Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov responded by making “conditions at the camp unbearable”.  In addition to being threatened by Kupriyanov, she acknowledges being provoked by fellow inmates who are trying to fight her.  In response to that she says:

Over and over, they attempt to get me to fight one of them, but what’s the point of fighting with people who aren’t in charge of themselves, who are only acting on the orders of the administration?

The entire letter is worth reading in full.

The women of Pussy Riot have repeatedly made their intentions clear– as artists, they view “changing the world” as an extension of their jobs. Their actions, including this current hunger strike, confirm that they’re not fucking around.  This isn’t a political endorsement or an appearance in a PSA – they’re intent on uprooting the system that they’re up against.

They are remarkable because they are relentless and prison or not — their spirits are far from broken.

Punk Rock Rebels, Repressive Regimes Fight Back

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Elk’s Lodge riot in downtown Los Angeles where the LAPD cracked the skulls of punk rockers at a multiband show near MacArthur Park. Officers in riot gear stormed the historic Elks Lodge where local bands X, the GoGos, the Plugz, the Alley Cats and the Zeros were headlining, swinging batons, terrorizing and arresting young citizens for being different.

Rock and roll has been the music of rebellion and social change since the 1950s, and each successive wave of youths have discovered its power (chords) and embraced its do-it-yourself aesthetic. Punk rock and technology, from cassette tapes to MP3 and file sharing have made music the most easily understood and easy to identify mode of rebellious self-expression. The music, lyrics, and yes, fashion have been and are still threatening to the powers that be: Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates viewed punk rock, especially the band Black Flag, as a major threat, regularly sending in riot cops for their shows and says Black Flag drummer Greg Cameron:

Gates would get Black Flag tour dates and phone ahead to the local law enforcement agencies in those towns to “warn” them that Flag was coming.

Today punk rocks continue expressing dissatisfaction and challenging authority; and while punk may be almost 40, its revolutionary, self-empowering spirit has spread throughout the world to some of the most oppressive regimes, where musicians and fans are being imprisoned, “re-educated,” and murdered for daring to think and act differently.

In the past month in Iraq, per Reuters, 14 youths were stoned to death in Baghdad

in what appears to be a campaign by Shi’ite militants against youths wearing Western-style “emo” clothes and haircuts, security and hospital sources say.

Emo is modern style of punk music and dress that evolved in the late 1980s and is still popular with youth around the world. The Iraqi government has denied emo was the reason for the youths’ brutal death, but over the past weekend:

Militants in Shi’ite neighborhoods where the stonings have taken place circulated lists … naming more youths targeted to be killed if they do not change the way they dress.

The Guardian UK reports that in December 2011, where Indonesian youth which has been expressing itself through punk rock for two decades:

[A] punk gig took place in Aceh, Indonesia, the “special province” of the country that has its own police force pledged to maintain sharia law. Supposedly because the event’s organisers had forged official documents to gain the requisite permit, 64 of its attendees – who had travelled from all over the country – were arrested, and taken to a nearby detention centre, before being transported to a “remedial school” 37 miles away. There, their mohican hairstyles were forcibly removed because they were deemed “insulting to Islamic traditions”. According to a police spokesman, the group was held there to “undergo a re-education, so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people”. Demonstrations followed not just in Indonesia, but in London and San Francisco.

The recent Russian election brought punk rock to the forefront in the former Soviet Union when members of the feminist guerrilla punk collective (punk rock was the first genre where women/girls played all their instruments themselves) Pussy Riot were charged with hate crimes and violating a public order the day before the election, which kept Vladamir Putin in office as expected. Two members are still jailed and on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile last night at the über-hip SXSW in Austin, Tom Morello played a live concert for Occupy SXSW (Occupy Austin) attended by lots of folks who weren’t credentialed for the laminate-only festival/industry schmoozefest which was shut down by the police. Today, to celebrate the six months anniversary of the Occupy movement, there’s a Million Musician March for Peace taking place right now through the streets of Austin. Let’s see how the cops behave.

 

Art: Raymond Pettibone for Target Video, private collection

HT: We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Brendan Mullen and Mark Spitz


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