ARTIST REPRESSION IN RUSSIA-PUSSY RIOT TELLS ALL

Why in the world did Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, let Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina out of prison?

It was hard not to wonder about that this week as the two formerly imprisoned members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot made their whirlwind tour of New York: appearing on “The Colbert Report”; dropping in on Samantha Power, the United Nations ambassador; being introduced by Madonna at a huge Amnesty International rock concert at Barclays Center — and, midmorning on Wednesday, visiting The New York Times’s editorial board.

Pussy Riot became famous, of course, in February 2012, when five of its members, wearing masks, took to the altar of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox church to sing an anti-Putin song. Three of them were soon apprehended and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadezhda and Maria were sentenced to two years in prison. (The third member of the band to be charged was given a suspended sentence.)

Then, in late December, with two months remaining on their sentences, the government released them under an amnesty law that seemed plainly aimed at quieting criticism in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics of Russia’s treatment of political prisoners. Or at least those political prisoners well known in the West.

Just a few days earlier, for instance, Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been freed by Putin after more than 10 years in prison. During that time, Khodorkovsky had become an eloquent spokesman for those who opposed Putin’s crackdown on dissent and freedom. But he had also once been Russia’s richest man, and he had undoubtedly done some unsavory things in putting together his business empire years earlier. Even though the charges against him were bogus, there were people, and not just in Russia, who thought he was only getting what was coming to him.

But Pussy Riot? You couldn’t ask for more appealing activists. Not only had their prosecution been unjust, but they were young and attractive and intelligent and fearless. After they were released, Amnesty International invited them to New York and set about making sure their voices were heard by as wide an audience as possible. If Putin’s plan was, in fact, to quiet criticism during the Winter Olympics, it backfired spectacularly.

The conference room on the 13th floor of The New York Times building was standing-room only for Maria, 25, and Nadezhda, 24. We asked the obvious question: Are they worried that Putin would put them in prison again? No, said Maria. “In the two years since we were imprisoned, the situation in Russia has gotten so much worse,” she said. “And if we couldn’t keep quiet about it then, we certainly won’t keep quiet about it now.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/opinion/nocera-pussy-riot-tells-all.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20140208

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