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Punk collective Pussy Riot gives exclusive interview to IFEX member Index on Censorship

UPDATE: Judge extends detention of anti-Putin group Pussy Riot (Index on Censorship, 21 June 2012)

(Index on Censorship/IFEX) - 15 May 2012 - A Moscow court has confirmed that three women accused of being members of Pussy Riot can be held in prison until trial.

Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Semutsevich had appealed against an earlier decision to keep them in detention until 24 June — when they face charges of hooliganism for allegedly staging an anti-Putin performance in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. If convicted they face up to seven years in prison. All three women claim that they were not among the masked performers at the Cathedral. Two of the three women have very young children who they believe are suffering without their mothers.

The women's arrests triggered an emotional public discussion about the Orthodox church's relationship with Russian authorities and society. Radical nationalist movement members have been preventing activists from protesting against the Pussy Riot arrests. The Church, led by patriarch Kirill, who publically supports Vladimir Putin, performed a public prayer in April “against blasphemers”. Kirill's support of the Pussy Riot prosecution has concerned many religious Russians, who have petitioned for the release of the women.

Members of Pussy Riot who have not yet been arrested are now in hiding. They gave this exclusive email interview to Index on Censorship.

Did you expect these consequences — arrests, criminal proceedings, your supporters being beaten and insulted by radical nationalists — when you planned your cathedral performance? Would you repeat the performance if you knew how this would end?

We didn't expect the arrest. We are a women's group which is forced to consume the ideas of patriarchal conservative society. We experience each process that happens in this society. Besides, we are a punk band, which can perform in any public place, especially one which is maintained through our taxes. That's why we would definitely repeat our prayer. It was worth it: look at the awakened pluralism — political and religious!

The state remains intolerant towards much artistic expression. What about broader Russian society?

We are trying to educate society and will definitely take the importance of this process into account in our further actions. We expect people to at least look through Wikipedia after watching us on YouTube.

What must you do now to avoid arrests?

After Putin's inauguration, just wearing a white ribbon on your clothes — a symbol of protest — has become a reason for arrest in Moscow. So we don't wear them now.

Will you continue performing? You said that anonymity helps you replace the band members in case they get arrested. Have many people offered to join you?

Many people have expressed their wish to participate in our perfomances and we are planning them right now. We don't consider the patriarch[y]'s ignorant opinion and are not going to perform any protest songs against him personally.

The Russian Orthodox church, according to notable human rights activists, has lost its right to establish moral standards after having severely condemned you, as did some intellectuals who preferred not to notice your persecution. Who, in your perspective, is likely to take their place?

We think that one can learn moral values through literature, music and art, but definitely not in church. And as far as people are concerned, any human being who advocates humanistic ideas should support any prisoner who has lost her freedom because the authorities are afraid to give up their power.


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