A sign of Russia’s increasingly un-democratic ways were on full display last week when the punk band Pussy Riot was sentenced to two years in jail as the result of a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The three women who comprise the band held an anti-Putin protest in Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral and were arrested and charged with “hooliganism.” The arrest and subsequent conviction of the band is considered by many a referendum on political speech (or lack thereof) within Russia.
The convictions were met with worldwide condemnation. Rallies have been held in major cities across the world including, Paris, New York, Barcelona, Berlin, Warsaw and London. The United States immediately criticized the verdict and bemoaned the unjust and unduly severe punishment.
The judge presiding over the trial, Marina Syrova, described the women as “posing a danger to society” and noted that they had committed “grave crimes including the insult and humiliation of the Christian faith and inciting religious hatred.”
For many, the Pussy Riot trial is nothing more than the latest example of Vladimir Putin seeking to stamp out political opposition. Many believe that the parliamentary elections, which saw Putin returned to power, were compromised, and the sentencing of the band members further demonstrates government manipulation of the judicial system.
If one does the slightest bit of internet research, it’s easy to stumble upon a wealth of headlines and articles decrying Russia’s slow slip back to Cold War era government tactics. Mr. Putin seems intent on stifling dissent and snuffing out the voices of opposition.
Stanislav Samutsevich, the father of one of the defendants, said that the women were going through a classic case of Russian repression, “This is the experience all generations of Russian people went through. Our people were sent to prisons under all governments. I think we are rolling down to the practices of Iran, where one can get into prison for religious crimes, or Saudi Arabia. Is that what we want to see here?”