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Holding my breath for Pussy Riot

It took the Russian state and church to inflate this small act of protest into something of worldwide concern, that has brought international support for the Pussy Riot trio and elevated the misdemeanor into a rallying call for civil rights, basic European freedoms and a protest to the abusive exercise of power by Russian structures of the state and church.

Update: The Pussy Riot trio have each been sentenced to two years, from the day of arrest, to be served in jail.
 
Later today, Pussy Riot gets their verdict. In case you have not noticed, the European Greens have tried to keep Pussy Riot front page and prominent on the website. There has not been a day in the past few months that we have not done searches for their band, visited their Free Pussy Riot site, watched the exchanges on Twitter.  This is an important - a very important - issue in Europe.
 
It is also a cause celebre now for an event that was almost innocuous and irrelevent. It took the Russian state and church to inflate this small act of protest into something of worldwide concern, that has brought international support for the Pussy Riot trio and elevated the misdemeanor into a rallying call for civil rights, basic European freedoms and a protest to the abusive exercise of power by Russian structures of the state and church.
 
International solidarity has been found within the political and artistic world that have stepped up to support Pussy Riot. Some of the most famous musicians in the world have expressed support. Protest marches have been held across the globe. The day of the verdict, August 17, has become an international day of protest.
 
The internet has allowed a far faster understanding of the issue, spread of ideas, outrage and action - and, for me, most importantly, it has allowed international support to be known by the trio. It may be small comfort, but I hope it offers more, when the trio meets with their lawyers to discuss their future, that they know the world has responded. That there has been a constant, 24-hour-a-day sense of outrage that the have been jailed. That the Russian state has been brought into the spotlight and will be seen for what is happening.
 
I hope this makes incarceration tolerable.
 
There has to be a cynical point of view that this attention has made the trio, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich,  famous. That they will become a sensation in Moscow. That they will have long-term benefit from this. There has to be some truth to this - if they are set free. But it was not the motivation. This would be rationalization after the fact. Right now, they are in a Russian jail, have been there over five months and now face up to seven years in jail. 
 
If that is not frightening enough, the state has asked for a three year jail term. Not seven. Three is a term that would be acceptable to the system. It is a smart offer from a prosecution looking for an extended jail term. It cannot be dismissed as an excessive demand, under the Russian system. It is 'reasonable' given the maximum sentence is seven years. The court could accept this offer.
 
Even the protest act, once imagined, could not have expected this spiral into absurdity. In a nutshell, the trio performed an anti-Putin punk song in the Moscow cathedral. They performed without permission and were arrested. The trio were then put into jail for over five months before a trial started. The trial lasted a week and then the court adjourned in order to consider the sentence.
 
None of the trio have been allowed to leave the jail. There has been no bail. There has been no expectation of fair and reasonable period before a trial (the western idea of habeus corpus). No one was injured in this protest event. No property was damaged in this event. The only injury has been that of offense to the church, the institution, the building (for any perceived disrespect, the trio have made clear, emphatic apologies). There was no personal injury or property damage. Clearly, this was just a protest event. For that, the trio has been held without bail, without any decent sense of process, for five months.
 
This has to be where I first sensed some degree of irritation. They performed a song without permission in the church. It was an anti-Putin song. It was a small act of what could have been insignificant protest. It might have made a ripple on YouTube within Russia, but would scarcely have been noticed beyond their fan base. This event is only known to the wider world because of the excessive reaction. The sledgehammer to kill a fly scenario. That the Russian state is now under scrutiny, that the excessive demands of the church, that the adolescent over-reaction of the state, has made the papers is little more than a self-inflicted injury. 
 
But the judicial system will decide all on Friday August 17. Or, at least, that is when the decision is expected. Now I find myself holding my breath whether the state will try and make it all disappear with some sense of time-served and explanations of the magnanimous generosity of the state system decision to set them free. And just in case some readers of this bog have the idea that this kind of injustice could never happen in a western world, keep in mind, western courts - and prisons - have been filled with people facing crimes they never committed, where the system (I am thinking about the US system more than anything) has taken years from lives and cost all the life savings - and then the TV quote is always about how the system works. If there is one constant across the world, judicial systems are not pinnacles of virtue and justice. 
 
Despite any lack of breathing on my side, it would seem a guilty verdict will come. It is a question of severity. Russian courts rarely acquit. The BBC has a very insightful radio documentary on how the Russian system seems unable to bring a not guilty verdict once the state has laid charges.
 
Docs: Assignment: Russia - Waiting for Justice
Thursday, July 5, 2012, Duration:, 24 mins
Rebecca Kesby investigates allegations of corruption within Russia's criminal justice system.
Listen here 
 
As for the presiding judge Syrova, of the 178 cases she has presided over, 92% have been found guilty. Read more...
 
I give credit to the Greens. They flagged this issue in June as a major concern and the party has maintained that the issue remain a high priority. 
Greens supporting protests for illegally detained Russian activist musicians, link here  

Comments

Paul

About 2 years ago

I'm not sure you have the right meaning of 'habeus corpus', which means to right to go before a judge to question the legality of ones detention. It has nothing to do with a time period before a trial.

barry.sandland

About 2 years ago

I take an extended view of 'habeus corpus' that appearance in court be done in a timely fashion - you cannot simply hold a person indefinitely while you get a case, or find evidence, or design the charges. As best I understand, that was not done in this case. And, to be sure, if they did appear in a court soon after their arrest for the 'habeus corpus' issue to be met, I would protest 'due process' - why they had to languish in a jail for five months for a trial date over a simple protest event like this. I mean, five months before trial is a long wait for an act of mischief.

But you are quite right that 'habeus corpus' is the appearance before a court to prove the legality of the detention. I refer to how long a person can be held by the police before that appearance is made. For me, part and parcel of the same issue.

This issue has been raised in the EU perspective in the UK with the Police Detention and Bail Bill, which expands on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) which "sets out the length of time that a suspect can be detained in police custody after arrest before being charged or released (with or without bail)."

But your distinction is correct.

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