Russian Courts Make Another Blunder in Pussy Riot Drama

New York City – Human Rights First is calling today’s Zamoskvoretsky court ruling banning four Pussy Riot performance videos—including the “punk prayer” video made in Russia’s main church and a performance at the iconic Red Square—another legal Russian court misstep that is contrary to the country’s constitution and the Supreme Court’s specific instructions on the application of antiextremism legislation. “The video bans are a cherry on top of the politically motivated persecution of the women, two of whom are serving prison sentences in Russian colonies,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Russia’s misuse of antiextremism laws against dissenting voices has intensified in the recent years. While the multiple legal cases involving Pussy Riot remain the best known examples of such abuse, the government’s approach to addressing extremism is flawed and routinely leads to erroneous prosecutions of nonviolent dissidents, including antiracism campaigners, journalists, activists, independent media, and religious organizations.” Human Rights First previously welcomed the June 2011 Russian Supreme Court Ruling No. 11 that gave an official clarification on how extremism laws should be applied and what type of expert testimonies can be used in prosecuting cases. Applied in practice, the clarification could considerably limit the misuse of antiextremism laws, which are often used in cases of criticism of political or religious authorities. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling is routinely overlooked or ignored. Russia’s enforcement of antiextremism laws frequently violate constitutional and human rights norms. The initial trial of Pussy Riot was built on a controversial and flawed expertise carried out by three professors who scrutinized a video clip of the “punk prayer” through “psychological, linguistic, and judicial-linguistic” lenses. They concluded that the accused had indeed conspired to violate public norms and showed considerable contempt for the society overall and religious believers in particular, and that their motive was religious hatred. The experts concluded that the “punk prayer” in particular was “a hidden call to public disorder comparable to Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring.” All three experts enlisted by the prosecution had a long history of participation in similar politically motivated trials that resulted in court rulings that violate freedom of expression, association, and religion. The Zamoskvoretsky ruling that banned four of the group’s video clips and added an array of websites carrying them to Russia’s internet “black list” was made in violation of the Supreme Court’s guidelines as the experts where asked questions lying outside of their areas of expertise. “The insistence of the courts to use erroneous and blatantly illogical expert testimonies in extremism prosecutions undermines the rule of law in Russia,” concluded Grekov. “The vaguely defined laws on extremism are in dire need of reform. Though that change seems unlikely,  Russia’s Supreme Court can limit abuse by working to educate Russia’s prosecutors and judges about its position on prosecuting extremism cases outlined in last year’s Ruling No. 11.”

Press

Published on November 29, 2012

Share

Take action

Urge Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act