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…)

Kerry Washington: “Nothing Offensive” About Gay Rumors

Kerry Washington, who’ll be guest hosting Saturday Night Live tomorrow, is a smart, warm, and wise woman who understands the media and gossip rags as well as, if not better than, her character on Scandal, spin doctor Olivia Pope.  In an interview with the Advocate, Washington spoke about her commitment to equality and civil rights, and addressed the rumors circulating about her:

It’s interesting how much people long to fill in the gaps when someone in the public eye doesn’t share their personal life. I understand their frustration. I like how people will post pictures of me with other women that I adore, hugging on red carpets, and say, “See?” Are we so uncomfortable with love between two people of the same gender that we immediately label it as sexual? But I’ve never been bothered by the lesbian rumor. There’s nothing offensive about it, so there’s no reason to be offended.

Washington, who announced Wednesday that she’s expecting her first child with husband, San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, has played lesbian and trangendered characters in films, and has a strong following in the LGBT and ally community.  At 13, Washington was involved with the LGBT community and  HIV/AIDS peer education through NiteStar, a theater education program in New York City, and her commitment to equality across the board continues, something that shines in Scandal‘s plot lines:

For our show in particular, because it represents such diversity on so many levels, sexual orientation included, it means a lot. I always want to be a part of work that speaks to people across the lines that divide us…But because it has such an amazing following that crosses age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, Scandal has changed the game completely…

in fact, something that brings me great joy is knowing what Scandal’s audience looks like in terms of African-American households and knowing that so many African-American people and families are being introduced to our characters James and Cyrus. It’s really exciting that millions of viewers each week are living life with this amazing, complex couple, stepping into their gay marriage and adoption experience, which is such a vital storyline in our show….

With over 1.2 million Twitter followers, Washington has made it known that her support of LGBT right extends beyond the US, tweeting her disappointment over Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, as well as her support of equal rights around the world. She told the Advocate:

When there are crimes against humanity being committed in the world, we are all so vulnerable. We have to look out for and protect each other.

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.

Russia: Selena Gomez Visa Yanked over LGBT Rights Petition


A Change.org petition asking Selena Gomez to speak up about LGBT rights during her Russian concerts received over 12,000 signatures in one day. And now the Russian government has revoked the platinum-selling singer’s visa. The twenty-one year old Gomez, who got her start on Barney & Friends and dated Justin Bieber before he turned into a chavy douche, was scheduled to play St. Petersburg’s Ice Palace on Sep. 23 and Moscow’s Olimpiysky stadium on Sep. 25.

The petition, organized by John Becker, managing editor of Bilerico Project, called on Gomez to

 stand up for Russia’s LGBT community when she’s in Russia next week.

Both Madonna and Lady Gaga spoke out for LGBT rights at their concerts last year, and Cher has said she turned down an offer to open the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Elton John is scheduled to play in Russian in December, though his visa has not yet been issued. And it might not be, given Sir Elton’s recent statement:

I’m supposed to be going to Moscow in December. I’ve got to go. And I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say very carefully. There’s two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you’re really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can’t leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got to go.

In a statement, Becker told E! Online:

This cancellation of Selena Gomez’s visa shows that the Russian government is sensitive and on the defense, and shows that the pressure from people all around the world and the backlash against these laws is strong. They’re afraid to have someone like Selena Gomez come in and potentially use her platform to advance LGBT rights.

Madonna and Gaga are facing lawsuits for promoting

homosexual propaganda

to those under 18. That statute is part of larger effort to crack down on LGBT Russians. In response to harsh anti-LGBT laws and rhetoric there has been a boycott on Russian vodka in bars across the United States and a call to boycott the  2014 Olympics.

Elton John to Play Moscow: “I’m Doing It for Gay Russians”

Oh Elton, Elton.  I am so confused, but I just can’t quit you. Remember when his remark about being very happy with civil unions became a rallying cry for Prop 8 and anti-equality forces? Once there was a hue and cry about his naivety ignorance of basic facts, he came around and ended up playing an amazing concert as a fundraiser for AFER and becoming a spokesperson for marriage equality. Then he played Rush Limbaugh’s wedding for  huge fee. (I’d like to hope that he donated that fee to pro-equality groups as a puckish fuck you to the forces at the EIB, but I guess I’ll never know).

Elton John played Sun City  in South Africa during apartheid, and yes that was 30 years ago. He played Tel Aviv just three years ago saying:

Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.


Then Sir Elton thumbed his nose at China’s cultural politics by publicly dedicating his 2012 concert in Beijing to  to “the spirit and talent” of dissident artist Ai Weiwei,  prompting the Chinese culture minister, Cai Wu, to demand that only stars with university degrees be allowed to play in China. Sir Elton told the Guardian:

“Ten thousand people went ‘Eugh!’, but how could you not?. He’s become a friend, and what he’s suffered as an artist is unbelievable. During and after the show, my tour manager was interrogated for three hours, and what he said to them was true: I bought a beautiful Ai Weiwei piece, I was grateful and we’ve become friends. I didn’t feel in any danger.

Sir Elton adds a new item to his wish list: He’d like to go back to China and talk to the government about AIDS. According to the performer:

the country’s leading AIDS activist has claimed that the government’s estimate of 650,000 HIV cases is barely a 10th of the real figure.

Elton John wanted to play in front of the Pyramids of Giza, but claims be was banned because he is gay. And his very public gayness has ruffled feathers in other locales, the Guardian reports:

a church in Tobago organised a protest against his appearance there, while he received threats from an Islamic group when he played in Morocco.

So what about his proposed December concert date in Moscow?

Listen, I went to Russia in 1979 and I knew we were being watched all the time: I had an interpreter that they’d clearly set up. Actually, I ended up having sex with him on the roof of my hotel.  I’m supposed to be going to Moscow in December. I’ve got to go. And I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say very carefully. There’s two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you’re really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can’t leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got to go.

Elton John certainly flies in the face of Putin’s  ban on homosexual propaganda. He and longtime partner David Furnish united in a civil union ceremony in 2005, one of the first in Britain, and are planning weddings in Britain and in California now that it is legal to do so– and the couple has two children Zachary  and Elijah. In 2009 the Ukrainian government block Sir Elton’s adoption of an HIV+ baby, citing his age and single status; the Ukraine does not recognize same-sex unions.  Adoption officials had another point of view:

Albert Pavlov, head of the Happy Child foundation for orphaned and sick children in Zaporizhia, said he opposed adoption by gays, but called for removing age and marriage restrictions for adopters.

How will Putin and Russian government deal with Elton John, a venerable and flamboyant, visibly gay figure in pop music who refers to himself as the Queen Mother? Madonna and Lady Gaga  played St Petersburg and spoke out from the stage, violating, according to the Russian government, the terms of their visas.  Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to ban fans under 18 years old from Gaga’s concerts. Madonna and Gaga are post-modern hetero-normative, basically straight ladies who like teh gheys, have a platform to speak out, and do. Elton John is waaay more risky–he’s clearly queer and the very act of playing in Russia is pretty subversive/transgressive, especially given his outspokeness on  stage and off.

In July, 2103 Elton John was scheduled to play a concert in Krasnodar, Russia which caused great consternation.

Local party leader Mikhail Abramyan recommended that Elton don a knee-length kaftan, knee-high leather boots, and a fur hat for the July 14th gig.

He said: ‘It would be more respectable.  We have suggested it to the promoters and we hope he’ll wear it.’, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Despite calls from Krasnodar clergy to ban Sir Elton’s July 14th concert because the singer represents homosexual propaganda, no ban was issued. Rather the concert was postponed, then cancelled due to the singer’s illness.

Somehow I think, and maybe I am just an optimist, that Elton John playing Moscow is his attempt at activism, and is motivated by the desire to make a positive change, rather than to line his pockets. It will be interesting to see what bombshells, like that in China, he drops from the stage–maybe playing “All the Young Girls Love Alice”? And I wonder if Edward Snowden will be backstage! Now that would be a Facebook photo op!

HT: Back2Stonewall

Peaceful Pastafarians Attacked, Arrested in Moscow

Russian Orthodox activist vigilante group Bozhaya Volya, or God’s Will, along with Russian police, broke up a peaceful march by members of the Pastafarian minority religion, detaining eight members of the gentle believers.

Pastafarians worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Their faith was founded in 2005 by Bobby Henderson in response to the Kansas State Board of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. Adherents to satirical religion are gradually gaining acceptance. In November 2007, four talks about the Flying Spaghetti Monster were delivered at the American Academy of Religion‘s annual meeting in San Diego, while in 2011 Austrian Pastafarian Niko Alm won the legal right to be shown in his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head, based on Austrian regulations that allow religious headgear in official photos. Earlier this year a member of the Czech Pirate Party (a legitimate political party, and connected to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster because Pastafarians believe that pirates are “absolute divine beings” and the original Pastafarians.)

According to Raw Story:

Followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster planned to hold a “pasta procession” in Moscow and St. Petersburg to honor the birthday of Robert De Niro, who once played a character named Noodle in the movie Once Upon A Time in America.

The “pasta procession” in Moscow was disrupted by the Orthodox activist group Bozhaya Volya, or God’s Will, who sprayed ketchup on a march participants. The Orthodox group has held demonstrations against homosexuality, the punk rock group Pussy Riot, and the Darwin natural history museum.

At least one Pastafarian was shoved to the ground by members of the vigilante Bozhaya Volya, as this video from RT shows:

Blurred Lines: Russia Dances With Gay Propaganda, Fights Lady Gaga and Madonna

“Tonight, this is my house Russia.  You can be gay in my house.  And if you ever need me Moscow I will just be a telephone call away.”

So promised Lady Gaga at a December 2012 concert in Russia (remarks begin at about the 3 minute mark).

Yet for fans in Russia those calls may be temporarily left unanswered.

With the 2014 Winter Olympics around the corner, the country has come under considerable heat for its anti-gay laws.  In Russia, the act of voicing support for gay rights in and of itself is considered to be “propaganda” and is therefore illegal.

In the face of international criticism Putin’s Russia is doubling down, with authorities currently investigating  both Lady Gaga and Madonna for failing to comply with their travel Visas and/or for vocally supporting gay rights while in Russia. The lines on this one are more blurred than a Robin Thicke song.

Vitaly Milonov, an official with the Prosecutor General’s Office in St. Petersburg and a sponsor of the law that bans gay “propaganda,” first raised concerns that their visas, approved as a sort of cultural exchange, did not permit either pop star to reap any financial benefit from their performances.

Yet these allegations have a political undertone.  Milonov first filed an application regarding Lady Gaga after her December show suggesting that she promoted homosexuality to children.  Madonna was similarly sued for 10 million dollars by an anti-gay group for causing them “moral suffering” for also expressing pro-gay sentiments.  Those charges were ultimately dropped.

Both stars are being investigated and could face fines or be banned from the country outright.

Regardless, they’ll find themselves in good company.

Blake Skjellerup is a New Zealand speed skater who hopes to compete on behalf of his country in the Winter Olympics being held in Russia.  Skjellerup is also gay and thus engaged in a tap dance of sorts with Russian authorities who are trying to avoid looking like assholes while holding firm to their anti-gay laws.

Milonov, the same official who’s going after Lady Gaga and Madonna, has made it clear that Russian officials don’t have the authority to suspend the gay ban for the Olympics.

That said, a Russian sports minister assured news agency RIA Novosti that while gay athletes could compete, any sort of propaganda would not be tolerated.

Skjellerup isn’t fazed, vowing to wear the same rainbow button he wore attending the 2012 Olympics and promising;

“If I’m stopped at the border, I’m stopped at the border. My presence there is going to be important for me and important for the community and I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.”


‘Till then, express yourself.

Madonna vs St. Petersburg Over LGBT Rights

Madonna declared on her Facebook page that she will speak up against a new stringent anti-LGBT law in St. Petersburg, Russian which calls for fining anyone who promotes

the false perception that traditional and non-traditional relationships are socially equal.

Fines can be as high as $15,000, and St Petersburg city assemblyman Vitaly Milanov says he will attend the concert to insure its
moral content
and that Madonna is charged under the new law if she refers to it negatively or makes any positive statements about LGBT rights. The bill, which also bans the promotion of homosexuality and pedophilia to minors, was signed into law by Mayor of St Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko, a former KGB officer and close friend of Vladamir Putin. 

On her Facebook page, Madonna wrote:

I’m a freedom fighter.
My show
My songs
My work
My art
Is all about freedom of expression
Freedom to choose to speak to act
Always with humanity and compassion
I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community, to support the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels opressed.
I don’t run away from adversity.
I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity.

Why it is not illegal to be gay in Russia, LGBT events have been violently disrupted by police, who claim the events upset the populace, and the Russian Orthodox church urges punishment or hospitalization for gays.

Madonna’s concert appearance in August is causing friction in the LGBT community. Yury Gavrikov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Gay Russia movement told AFP:

We intend to protest against the hypocrisy of pop stars. In Russia, they have fantastic earnings, and this allows them to forget about the problems of human rights. If people like Madonna boycott their concerts particularly in Saint Petersburg that could have economic consequences, and that is important, while declarations of support for gay rights at concerts mean nothing.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Igor Kochetkov, chairman of the Russian LGBT Network spoke to the Daily Mail, saying:

We consider that Madonna’s visit and her address to millions of her Russian fans with words in support of freedom of expression for everyone will bring more good than a boycott would.

(Icon caption from “Crimes of Passion,”  by Madonna and Kevin Bray)