Pussy Riot

Pussy Rioting

Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot

A Russian rock band has found themselves in hot water. Not just hot water, but they found themselves in jail. Members of the band known as Pussy Riot were recently sentenced to prison for a charge known as hooliganism. In February, the feminist and politically active rock group performed an impromptu show at a Russian Orthodox Church. The show at the church was in protest against the re-election of President Vladimir Putin, but apparently a big no-no specifically because the concert was done at the church in what prosecutors called “religious hatred”. Accused, arrested, tried and convicted in just six months, three members now face two years in prison each. Two years in prison over what many are saying is too harsh of a punishment. Public opinion in Russia is split on whether the punishment fit the crime. Internationally, dozens of musicians, politicians and other public figures are lending their support for Pussy Riot. However disproportionate or not, this incident is showing us a lot about the Russian legal system, religious freedom in Russia, or just freedom of speech in Russia.

Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhada Tolokonnikova are three of the four woman who broke into the service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform their song, “Mother of God, Put Putin Away”. The performance only last just about a minute before they were escorted off the premises. A couple weeks later, two of the members were charged with hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred. While hooliganism, is actually a punitive crime in some countries, many Americans may not have heard of it before. It’s essentially an amplified disturbing the peace charge. It’s almost to the point of inciting a riot, or even participating in one. The hooliganism in this case though was in a religious reference. The trio said, in their defense, that they had not meant any offense, but only wanted to make a political statement in reference to the growing relationship between the government and the church.

We’re fortunate that in America, we don’t see any of our musicians going to jail (at least for their music) thanks due to our freedom of speech. We’ve seen artists’ work get rated and censored, but with songs that go as far as describing the killing of police officers, such as Iced-T’s “Cop Killer” record, there’s virtually no end to what can be said in lyric and receive no punishment. But in regards to Russia’s Pussy Riot, they knew there had to be limitations to their music. Their whole gag is performing in mask to spontaneous locations. But even still, is their fan base right? Is the growing list of musical artists like Madonna, Bjork, Paul McCartney, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers support in the proper place? It may have given the Pussy Riot defendants the benefit of just two years of the possible seven-year maximum. Maybe under the eyes of Russian law they should be fortunate.

Not for nothin’, but let’s remember what’s important here. Supports need to focus more on the fact of what they’re going to prison for, as opposed to the outrage of the extent of their punishment. I’m not referring to their charge either, but the fact that they decided to do this in protest of the country’s president. Without the proper knowledge and education, it’s hard to imagine what life is like under President Putin. Is it bad enough to risk two years in jail making a song about it? More importantly, is the freedom to make such songs, disappearing altogether there. Was it a hate crime, or hate speech?

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