Nov 10, 2017 in Law

The Dossier

The Pussy Riot trial is one of the controversial cases that resulted in a storm of criticism that broke in Russian and which was widely reported by media. According to the Guardian news reporter, Elder (2012, p.1), the harsh two-year prison sentence that was given to three members of the feminist punk band for protesting against the Russian government in Moscow’s Cathedral was a breach of democracy. Huffington post’s Isachenkov (2012, p.1) pointed out that the sentencing of the three punk rock-style activists Maria Alyokhina, 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22 was a sign of dictatorship. They participated in a raucous prayer for the deliverance from Vladimir Putin. This, in turn, resulted in the worldwide protests that sparked democratic inclusion. This assertion coincides with Laverty’s (2006, p.23) opinion that Putin reign has not only seen emergence of authoritarianism in Russia of which has postponed democracy in the country.

Significantly, this trial case illustrates that democracy and human right appropriateness are two important processes that are still lacking in Russia. Based on Sandford, 2012 BBC news reported assertion – the trial of Pussy Riot was more a political trial. Nevertheless, the feminist punk band was accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In this regard, the paper analyses the Pussy Riot and its implications for democracy, human rights, and Russian’s legal systems.

The sentencing of these three women, which was presumed as harsh, was the demonstration of decline in Russian democracy. According to Bahmueller, Johnston & Quigley (2007, p.113), Russia has been a powerful country with the floundering democracy over time. However, this democracy has faced off the imminent threat of tyranny from the personified leader –Vladimir Putin. They note that authoritarian rules such as Putin have continued to describe their government in order to bask the good opinion being given by others which holds for democracy. He intensified crackdowns on those who dissented from him. Moreover, under his rule, Russia has increasingly become undemocratic (Rose, Mishler & Munro, 2011, p.47). The Pussy Riot trial was the demonstration of this might. While the conviction was based on “hooliganism driven by religious hatred,” a proper understanding of the excessiveness of the conviction point towards the undermining democracy.

As reported on the BBC news, the United States and the European Union condemned the sentenced as disproportionate. Victoria Nuland, U.S. state department spokesperson noted that “U.S. was concerned not only about the verdict, but the disproportionate sentences which had negatively impacted on the freedom of expression in Russia,” (p.1). Additionally, Alyokhina, Samutsevich, and Tolokonnikova were asked why they chose to oppose the Russian government in the recently restored synagogues, Christ the Saviour Cathedral (1917). The rebels noted that the support of Orthodox Church leaders for Mr Putin became the reason (Lynskey, 2012, p.1).

The implications of such suppressive conviction, especially of political protest, undermine democratic process. This means that it affects human rights activism. When Judge Maria Syrova founded the three guilty hooliganism of which she asserted to have “crudely undermined the social order,” she did not consider the suspects’ human rights (Crawley, 2012, p.1). She also refused to hear and consider much of the defence testimonies that were provided (Lewis, 2012, p.1). Excessive harsh sentence raises the question of Russia’s commitment to protect the fundamental human rights and freedom for all the people. Even the so called “blasphemy” that surrounded the verdict and conviction is not part of criminal code (Morrison, 2012, p.1). As a result, it can be pointed out that agitation and protection of human rights in Russia is immensely undermined by the leaders who wish to maintain the status quo by clinching their old ways of dictatorship. It is obvious that the forceful action of the current government against those activists who protest against the seizure of historical churches and monasteries is the act of suppressing the common citizen.

On the other hand, the Pussy Riot trial raises a lot of concern about the validity and transparency of Russia’s legal system, especially in protecting human rights (Carbonnel & Tsvetkova, 2012, p.1). The given jail terms to Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova questioned Russia’s respect and adherence to the obligation of fair, transparent, and ultimate independent legal process (Shuster, 2012, p.1). It showed that the Russian authorities would stop at no end in using the legal system for the ensuring that they suppress the dissent and stifle civil societies who practices their human rights.

For instance, Judge Syrova continuously turned down the three women petitions for giving the bail when they waited for their trials (Sandford, 2012, p.1). What is more, judge had already been informed about the fact that two of the accused women had had young children. For example, Tolokonnikova’s daughter Gera was only four years old and required motherhood care. According to Pyotr Vertiz, a radical artist, the Pussy Riot trial case was personally influenced and led by Putin and his closest assistants. Responding to the verdict, a Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, a minority liberal elite noted it as “another blow to the justice system that strategically and terribly damaged the authority of the legal process,” (Diez, Mayr & Schepp 2012, p.1). His voiced concern conformed to the widespread belief that court cases were being politically orchestrated and judges were not the decision makers.  However, the manner in which these three suspects were treated was used to instil fear rather than maintaining the sanctity of the country’s religious revival. Based on this, the case served as a warning to other protesters who would wish to engage in such related activism or appeal against Putin’s deeply conservative base. This was evident when the research conducted by Levada Centre projected 44 per cent of Russian believed in the right prosecution of the case with most of those polled linking the case to have been initiated by groups of Russian Orthodox Churches (Elder, 2012, p.1).

Based on the above stated, the Russian image was painted as medieval dictatorship where legal system was used to undermine democracy and human rights in order to benefit the few.


In conclusion, it is imperative to note that the Pussy Riot trial has negatively affected the democratic image and process of Russia. It is important to note that human right activism is an essential process in a civilized society and in the nation that agitates for inclusiveness and accountability of government authorities. Therefore, the set up legal structures and processes that are established to protect and maintain human rights should not be used purposely by leaders who have their selfish interests, but rather for public gain and interest.

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