What's Next for Pussy Riot?

Imprisoned band members' legal team prepares for October 1st appeal hearing

Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at a court hearing in Moscow
Andrey Smirnov/AFP/GettyImages
Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at a court hearing in Moscow
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Early last week, after a lengthy flight from Russia, the bleary-eyed lawyers for Pussy Riot sat in a midtown New York conference room to meet with journalists for the first time in the U.S., before a packed week that included receiving the LennonOno Grant for Peace Award from Yoko Ono, traveling to Washington D.C. and meeting with Amnesty International representatives.

There was a sense of urgency. On October 1st, the Russian band's three imprisoned members – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – will appear before Moscow City Court for an appeal hearing. The legal team says their best-case scenario will be to get the members' two-year sentence shortened by six months. Unless ruled otherwise, within 10 days of the hearing, they'll likely be sent from a Moscow jail to three separate Russian penal colonies.

Pussy Riot: Their Trial in Photos

"We know the women who are there are already ready to welcome the girls in a bad way," said Alisa Obraztsova, a member of the legal team defending the group. "We are afraid that they may be injured or even killed, because they will be in one big barrack with 150 people in one room. Among these people are violent criminals – women who sold their children, who murdered . . . [for whom] being beaten is part of everyday life."

The legal team plans to bring up various trial injustices at the hearing, from being denied the opportunity to call witnesses to other incidents including a court bomb threat, when everyone – except the defendants and their security – were allowed to evacuate the courtroom. Obraztsova recounted another incident when the bandmates, hungry, asked for a meal and the judge shrugged them off. "She brought a cookie and gave this cookie to the dog which was sitting next to the girls. Of course, from the legal point of view [it] is nothing, but from the human [point of view] . . . it's torture." The dog, she said, "was trained to bark and to try to bite the girls."

The legal team shrugged off Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's recently expressed sentiment that the band should be released early. "Medvedev has never made any decision, even during his Presidential term. And that's why his words weigh nothing," Obraztsova said. They also noted how little impact Russian President Vladimir Putin's comment that the group should not be "judged so harshly" had.

"A lot of people started to think 'Maybe something will change' . . . but on the next date, the judge was rejecting all the claims, the dog was barking." She added, "I think [Putin's] not understanding actually what is happening. He's on another planet. He doesn't see people who are against him."

The lawyers also addressed other "members" of Pussy Riot who have made news recently. "In the beginning it was the anonymous punk group," Obraztsova said. "The core of this group is Katya, Nadya and Masha. After the case was started to be well known around the world, we can't be sure that any other Pussy Riot members are really Pussy Riot, because they're anonymous . . . Pussy Riot, in the beginning it was any person who thinks like them who has the same views can be a Pussy Riot member, but now the situation changed, and the only Pussy Riot are Katya, Nadya and Masha."

The legal team thinks the outpouring of support from musicians like Madonna helped ease the length of their sentencing. Said Obraztsova, "Nadya told us that of course she is very grateful and she appreciates all of this Madonna's involvement. Madonna is one of the Pussy Riot, so for the girls it's very, very important. For the legal team, of course we understand that because of this public interest around the world, the girls were not sentenced to seven years."