News / Solidarity and Sisterhood

Pussy Riot Band Members Sent to Prison Camps

A protest to free Pussy Riot members

Photo by Grüne Bundestagsfraktion via Flikr

By Shannon Clarke

Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, two members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, will serve out the rest of their sentence in prison camps outside of Moscow, their lawyer Mark Feygin said Monday.

The band members were convicted in August of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after their band performed a punk prayer condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin at the main Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow. They have been sentenced to two years in prison.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova lost their appeals on Oct. 10. Another band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on the grounds that she wasn’t on-stage for the actually performance, reports the National Post.

According to The Guardian the prisons to which the women are being sent are in Perm, Siberia and Mordovia, raising concerns from the women and their lawyer that they will be too far away from their children. There are also concerns for their health and safety.

They have been communicating with their supporters while in prison, via smuggled letters from their lawyers. But even in jail they maintained that Putin’s vice-grip on his opponents is losing strength.

“Together we are creating a big and important political event, and Putin’s system finds it harder and harder to overpower it. Whatever the verdict, you and we have already won, because we have learned how to be angry and to talk politically,” wrote philosophy student Tolokonnikova in August.

Since their arrest, Pussy Riot grabbed immediate attention worldwide. Western nations condemned Putin’s government for the stifling of free speech in Russia, and thousands protested what they believed to be a bogus trial. More than 200 protestors gathered in front of the Russian consulate in Toronto on Aug. 17 as part of Global Pussy Riot Day, reported the Toronto Star.

But the demonstrations did little to influence the Kremlin, as the trial went on and the women were sent to prison.

Putin, re-elected in March despite allegations of fraud, has maintained the arrest was necessary to protect the religious class of Russia. After their sentencing, he said that the women “got what they asked for”.

Musicians including Madonna, The Who and Paul McCartney have been vocal about their support for the women. Author Stephen Fry penned a long letter in reaction to the trial, and humanitarian Yoko Ono awarded them the LennonOno Grant for Peace award in September.

The international outrage around their imprisonment has now become the Free Pussy Riot movement and, despite attempts to distance the women from public view, the case continues to draw attention.

“When political prisoners are pitted against their oppressors, not to side with the prisoners is the worst indecency of all,” wrote columnist Cathy Young in an article for the National Post  titled “Why Pussy Riot Still Matters”. M

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