Russian punk group arrest raises eyebrows

By: Nathan Fordyce

Russian journalist Kirill Mikhailov held a Skype interview, which was hosted by the Center for Russian East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) and the William Allen White School of Journalism, about the arrest of the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot that has gained national interests with limitations of free speech in question.

Pussy Riot is a Russian female punk rock band that were arrested for singing a song about Russia’s president Vladimir Putin while on the doorsteps of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Kirill has been apart of many protests in Russia and surrounding countries by live-streaming and live-tweeting. He told the room of about 25 people that what the women did, was not that bad and they were essentially doing their job.

“This is wrong because those three girls are artists not criminals,” Mikhailov said.

On Feb. 21, the punk band of five women staged an illegal performance on Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The group pulled colorful winter hats over their heads and started kicking and punching the air while singing, “Punk Prayer: Holy Mother, Chase Putin Away!” During the song Pussy Riot, sang to the Virgin Mary to get rid of President Putin and the Moscow Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill I.

When the music video went viral in March, the group was arrested for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Two of the members fled Russia and haven’t been seen since. The other three were taken to trial and on Aug. 17, they were sentenced to two years in prison.

At first, people were upset with what Pussy Riot did and were in favor of punishment.

“At the beginning of trial, many people felt the girls had to be arrested and be judged,” Mikhailov said. “Everyone around me said they should be arrested for like 15 days. What they did was bad, but it wasn’t terrible.”

Mariya Omelicheva, the director for CREES, said the crime the punk band committed didn’t fit the punishment.

“They could have been fined, it’s like a small misdemeanor,” Omelicheva said. “Two years is too harsh.”

The arrest and detainment of Pussy Riot has become a global issue focusing strongly on the limitations of free speech. Some people believe the group is standing up for what they believe others believe they are in it for publicity. John Alexander, a former history professor of Russia and East European Studies at the University, believes they were in it for the recognition.

“This is one way of certainly getting attention,” Alexander said. “They did it at the wrong place and did it in bad taste.”

Alexander does side with Mikhailov on the fact that the group didn’t deserve to get two years of prison due to bad taste.

Pussy Riot has gained support from a bunch of music artists including The Beastie Boys, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yoko Ono and Madonna.

“[Pussy Riot] are people with different opinions, people that are ready to do more than just say words and go to meetings,” Mikhailov said. “They were ready to do more.”



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