Russia’s ‘Legal Nihilism’ Lives on as Pussy Riot’s Trial Begins

New York City – Human Rights First calls for the immediate release of the three members of punk group Pussy Riot, whose trial began today in Moscow’s Khamovniki district court. The women are charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for staging a nonviolent protest against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow’s main cathedral.  They have been detained since February and will likely remain in custody until at least January 12, 2013. Though Pussy Riot has been charged with hooliganism, the trial already resembles other cases prosecuted under Russia’s vaguely defined and much criticized “extremism” statues.   This prosecution bears similarity to the notorious trial of art curators Yury Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev, who were prosecuted for inciting ethnic and religious hatred through their art exhibit “Forbidden Art.” In this and other cases, the formal proceedings resembled less a trial than a theatrical performance dominated by an army of witnesses called by the prosecution. “Russia’s judicial system is demonstrating its flaws by pursuing this politically motivated trial,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “The prosecutors are arguing the case based on the model tested in numerous ‘extremism’ trials that had all the elements of ‘legal nihilism’ – the term that Dmitry Medvedev famously used in 2008 to criticize the country’s cynical culture of disrespect for the rule of law. Now the entire country—and world—is watching and speaking out against the Kremlin’s systematic pursuit of political dissent.” Today’s hearing suggests that the Pussy Riot trial will follow the same model. Human Rights First has already exposed the “experts” enlisted by the prosecution in the Pussy Riot trial, all of whom have participated in other sham trials that resulted in violations of freedom of expression, association, and religion. The experts’ connection to previous high-profile extremism cases is another sign of what’s likely to come for Pussy Riot. “We unfortunately don’t expect any positive surprises in this case,” concluded Grekov. “Human Rights First fears that the trial will be as absurd as other ‘extremism’ cases. This trial has become a personal tragedy for the three members of Pussy Riot and another sign that legal nihilism is here to stay.”

Press

Published on July 30, 2012

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