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Pussy Riot are Suing Russia for Human Rights Violations

Win McNamee, Getty Images

Pussy Riot are turning the legal tables on their country and suing the Russian government in the European Court of Human Rights over their imprisonment for a February 2012 “punk prayer” protest they performed at a Moscow cathedral.

According to the Guardian, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were granted amnesty in December after spending 21 months in prison and pretrial confinement, are asking for about $161,260 each in compensation and about $13,000 for legal fees. The pair claims that Russia’s investigation and prosecution were tantamount to torture.

Human rights legal group Agora is representing the women. It’s the same organization that first filed a complaint in 2012 after Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and a third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after they performed their song ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Out’ at Christ the Savior Cathedral near the Kremlin. While Samutsevich was given a suspended sentence in October 2012 after just six months, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova remained in prison colonies until their release last December.

Here’s video of the incident:

Agora claims Russia violated at least four articles of the European convention on human rights: the rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security and a fair trial along with committing torture. The organization alleges the use of glass detainment cells, the rigorous trial schedule and the use of escort dogs between hearings were “inhumane.”

Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, said the treatment was a tactic to make the women appear guilty in the eyes of citizens. “People saw them in a glass cage all the time next to police dogs, and the whole thing proved to everyone that they were guilty before they were found guilty by the court,” Chikov said. “The practice in Russia where people are put in glass or metal cages in the courtroom has nothing to do with a fair trial and violates the presumption of innocence.”

The Russian government issued a 35-page response in June, calling the complaint “obviously unfounded.” The statement said use of a glass cage is common in other countries and that Pussy Riot’s imprisonment was a “side-effect” of the country’s desire to protect Russian Orthodox worshipers’ freedom of belief.

Chikov, said the lawsuit will serve primarily as a political statement. “They didn’t get fair trial here in Russia so they want to get it finally in the European court of human rights,” he 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.”

Chikov said if the women win their suit, they plan to donate the money to human rights charities. After that, they would shift their focus and attempt to overturn their criminal convictions.

Pussy Riot haven’t exactly been laying low since their release. In addition to myriad television appearances, they also released a video for ‘Putin Will Teach You How to Love.’ Check it out:

Next: Who is Pussy Riot?

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