.

Pussy Riot Trial Nears Verdict in Moscow

Jailed feminist rockers could face up to three years in prison for 'punk prayer'

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot is escorted to a court hearing in Moscow.
ADNREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages
August 7, 2012 11:45 AM ET

Jailed feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot told a Russian court both yesterday and today that their "punk prayer" in Moscow's biggest cathedral was a political statement, not an expression of hate against Orthodox Christians.

"We sang 'Black habit, gold shoulder straps' about the fusion of KGB and the church," band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said yesterday in court. "Our goal was political protest in artistic form. There was no hate, not a drop."

Police jailed Pussy Riot members Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, this past March – charging them with "hooliganism" for staging a performance in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in which they asked the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.  The court hearings, which began July 30th, have been widely criticized as a politically motivated show trial, with international artists including Madonna, Patti Smith, Sting and Red Hot Chili Peppers calling for Pussy Riot's release.

The breakneck speed of the controversial proceedings continued to stun participants and observers as the judge moved the trial into its penultimate stage – the debates – on Monday evening. Defense lawyers complained that they were not given enough time to prepare for the debates, with just one night to get their materials ready.

After the debate phase, the defendants will offer final statements before the court issues its verdict.  Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for the band; the court will likely hand out its sentence before the end of this week. (The maximum sentence for hooliganism is seven years, but Putin recently made a public statement suggesting that the band should not be punished too severely.)

Prosecutor Alexander Nikiforov called Pussy Riot's church performance blasphemous, adding that blasphemy is one of the gravest sins in the Russian Orthodox Church. Nikiforov claimed that political lyrics were only added to the song later to mask the band's hate and sacrilege toward the Christian Orthodox faith.

But Pussy Riot's members strongly disputed this allegation. "We sang part of the refrain 'Holy shit,'" Tolokonnikova said in court today. "I am sorry if I offended anyone with this. It is an idiomatic expression, related to the previous verse - about the fusion of Moscow patriarchy and the government. 'Holy shit' is our evaluation of the situation in the country. This opinion is not blasphemy."

Pussy Riot's lawyers also said today that the prosecution's case included falsified victim statements, evidenced by similar wording and identical spelling mistakes in all the statements. Tolokonnikova said that the dress and masks presented as evidence on Friday were not worn by any Pussy Riot member.

On Monday, Judge Marina Syrova denied the defense's motion to interview Igor Ponkin, an expert who reviewed the case and co-authored a report that stated that Pussy Riot's church stunt was blasphemous and motivated by religious hatred.

Ponkin has collaborated on several projects with Mikhail Kuznetsov, a lawyer of a church guard who has accused Pussy Riot of deeply offending his religious feelings. These projects included a joint letter published last fall to Putin and former president Dmitry Medvedev criticizing a federal education bill for being "atheist" and not having a clear clause on integration of theology into Russia's education system. Ponkin and Kuznetsov also co-wrote a book titled On the Right of Critical Evaluation of Homosexuality.

Syrova upheld the prosecution's objection to interviewing Ponkin on the grounds that the documents linking Ponkin and Kuznetsov were not filed properly. The judge has denied or ignored the majority of defense motions since the beginning of the trial; she has also denied eight requests to remove her from the case.

Syrova did, however, grant the defense a motion to interview more experts and witnesses – but at 9 p.m. on Monday, none of the witnesses had arrived at the Khamovniki court building.

"Your witnesses aren't here?" Syrova asked. "Then the court is moving to the stage of debates."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com