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Pussy Riot are suing Russia

on July 28, 2014, 8:02pm

Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are suing the Russian government for various human rights violations, reports the Guardian. The lawsuit, filed recently in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), stems from the group’s May 2012 arrest and subsequent 21-month prison sentence. Court documents indicate that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are seeking $161,000 each in compensation for treatment during both their sentence and “pre-trial confinement,” plus another $13,437 in legal fees.

The human rights legal group Agora is representing the two women. Agora originally initiated a complaint back in 2012, shortly after Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova, and a third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested for hooliganism after performing their song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out” at the Christ the Savior Cathedral. (Samutsevich was given a shortened sentenced and released six months later in October 2012.)

Among Agora’s chief complaints, Russia violated at least four articles of the European convention on human rights, specifically the rights to “freedom of expression, liberty and security and a fair trial, and prohibiting torture.” Agora alleges that the schedules for the pair’s trial hearings were unnecessarily strict and that the officers’ use of glass detainment cells and escort dogs between hearings were “inhumane.”

Despite the obvious financial reparations, Agora’s leader, Pavel Chikov, said the lawsuit is primarily a political gesture, with the goal to raise awareness. “They didn’t get fair trial here in Russia so they want to get it finally in the European court of human rights,” Chikov said. “Plus they want this case to set a precedent that Russians can speak publicly on sensitive political issues, even if this speech is not supported by majority. This is a case about freedom of expression and fair trial first of all.”

If Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova do win their suit, Chikov said they will donate the money to several human rights charities, including their own organization that focuses on systemic prison reform. Their next legal move would then focus on overturning their ongoing criminal convictions.

In response to the complaint, the Russian government has issued a 35-page report, calling the suit “obviously unfounded.” The report reads, “Deliberately provocative behaviour in a place that is dedicated to the spiritual needs of believers and is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox community clearly undermines tolerance and cannot be seen as a normal, sincere exercise of the rights of the convention.”

As the Guardian points out, citizens of Russia seem to agree with their government. A recent study found that 86% of the population thought Pussy Riot should be punished, with the majority favoring a “large fine or forced labor.”

Since receiving amnesty last December, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have maintained busy public schedules. They’ve appeared on The Colbert Report, Charlie Rose, and The Today Show; served as guests of honor at a human rights concert; held subsequent demonstrations in Sochijoined Twitter; released a heavily-politicized music video; and even plotted a forthcoming feature-length film.

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