Russian Activist Punk Band Press Conference Disrupted by Protestors in Sochi

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Demonstrators disrupted Russian punk band Pussy Riot as the former political prisoners attempted to hold a press conference.

Costumed heckler, joined by five university students, disrupted Pussy Riot’s press conference for the punk band’s newest anti-Putin music video. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

In 2012, Russian dissident musicians Pussy Riot rose to international fame by storming a Moscow cathedral, where they performed a provocative song that denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin. Band members Maria Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina imprisoned for hooliganism and inciting religious hatred. Authorities released them, alongside other political prisoners, shortly before the Olympics began in Sochi.

However, Pussy Riot immediately returned to denouncing the Kremlin, as well as conditions inmates endure in Russian prisons.

On 18 February 2014, police in Sochi detained members of Pussy Riot, human rights activists, and journalists in connection with an alleged theft at the band’s hotel. All charges were dropped and the detainees released within hours.

On 20 February 2014, Pussy Riot released an angry music video—“Putin Will Teach You to Love Your Country”—against Putin’s crackdown on free expression, as well as the Sochi Olympics’ price of $50 billion. In the song, Pussy Riot sings about the “constitution being lynched,” government pressure against Russia’s independent television station, and last week’s sentencing of environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to a penal colony for three years.

“The goal is to show what it’s like to be a political activist in Olympic Sochi,” said Pussy Riot member Tolokonnikova.

The video included the previous day’s footage of Cossacks—descendants of the former patrolmen of Russian borderlands—whipping the band members shortly after their song began near a “Sochi 2014” sign.

While foreign media prepared for a news conference with the band at a Sochi hotel, a hotel employee informed journalists that the conference room was unavailable. Several dozen journalists went outside, where uniformed police and undercover security officers waited for band members to arrive.

As the four Pussy Riot members approached with arms locked, five male university students, accompanied by a man dressed in a giant chicken suit, pulled out raw chickens and chanted, “We like sex with chicken” in mangled English. Then the students and costumed chicken attempted to disrupt the news conference.

The man in the chicken costume said, “We don’t like people who have sex with food. We don’t want them here.”

“We don’t understand their behavior and that’s why we’re protesting,” said 23-year old Sergei Barashov, one of the anti-Pussy Riot demonstrators. Barashov expressed concern that the punk band would desecrate a recently-built Russian Orthodox cathedral on the outskirts of Sochi’s Olympic Park.

For further information, please see:

CNN International – Beaten But Hardly Tamed, Pussy Riot Strikes Back in Sochi – February 20, 2014

Guardian – Pussy Riot’s Tour of Sochi: Arrests, Protests – and Whipping by Cossacks – February 20, 2014

New York Daily News – Bondy: Pussy Riot Slams ‘Total Police and Security Control’ of Winter Olympics at ‘Secret’ Press Conference – February 20, 2014

Reuters – Pussy Riot Mocks Russia’s Olympics in Music Video – February 20, 2014

New York Times – Members of Russian Protest Group Attacked by Cossacks in Sochi – February 19, 2014

Truce Between Ukrainian Government and Opposition Deteriorates As 100 Killed in Latest Fighting in Kiev

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – Gunfire erupted between government security forces and opposition protesters at Independence Square in Kiev on Thursday.

The aftermath of the latest violence in Kiev on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The latest violent scuffle occurred just two days after a breakout of violence that left 28 people dead, and mere hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce between government security forces and opposition leaders on late Wednesday evening.

As a result of the latest violence, approximately 100 people were killed and 500 were injured in the clashes, according to the opposition forces’ medical team. The Ukrainian government has not released its own casualty numbers, but Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko stated that 25 police officers were injured and an unknown amount were killed. There were also allegedly hostages taken during the violence.

The Ukraine’s hostile situation began in November, when President Yanukovych nixed a trade deal with the European Union, and decided to deal with Russia. A conflict between an alliance with Russia and cooperation with the European Union has permeated the Ukrainian government for years.

It is not specifically known exactly what sparked Thursday’s violence, as conflicting reports indicate protestors throwing Molotov cocktails, and security forces pursuing opposition forces. Interior Minister Zakharchenko stated the violence was “provoked exclusively by the opposition leaders.” President Yanukovych’s office also indicated that the protesters of broke the truce. “The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters,” a statement from the President’s office said.

An individual working for the opposition as a medical respondent accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by “professional snipers.” “They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck. They didn’t give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives,” she stated.

European Union officials were scheduled to meet to discuss possible sanctions against the Ukrainian government on Thursday, which could include freezing assets and restricting the visas of officials deemed responsible for violence in that country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged President Yanukovych to accept EU aid in negotiations with the opposition. Russia’s foreign ministry, however, appeared to criticize Western diplomatic efforts. “The ongoing attempts to obtrusively intervene from outside, threat with sanctions or trying to influence the situation in any other ways are inappropriate and can’t lead to anything good but can only aggravate the confrontation,” Russian spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich stated.

Ukrainian athletes dawned black mourning bands and held a moment of silence Thursday at the Sochi Olympics.

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Truce Crumbles Amid Gunfire in Ukraine, Protesters Claim 100 Dead – 20 February 2014

Reuters – Ukraine Truce Shattered, Death Toll Tops 50 – 20 February 2014

The Telegraph – Ukraine Protests Live: Death Toll Mounts Amid “Sniper Attacks” As Fresh Fighting Breaks Truce – 20 February 2014

New York Times – Ukraine Leader Strains For Grip As Chaos Spreads – 19 February 2014


*For live video coverage of the Events in Kiev, click here.




Moqtada al-Sadr Announces his Retirement to Public Life

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prominent Iraqi Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced Sunday that he would be retiring from political life in Iraq in a letter to his website he announced that he would close all his political office, that he would not hold any political office in the country nor would a block represent him in the Iraqi Parliament.

al-Sadr’s image, seen as a face of the anti-occupation movement, became commonplace in Iraqi cities throughout the U.S. led occupation of Iraq. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Al-Sadr inspired the Sadrist movement in Iraq, which gained popularity amongst Shiite groups across the country, especially amongst the Shiite urban poor. The Sadrist movement is a political movement follows the structure of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement by building on the Shiite faith, promoting military strength and populist programs in order to add to the movement political strength.

While Moktada al-Sadr holds no formal official position in the Iraqi government he continues he has become one of the most high profile figures in the country holding significant influence over politics in the country. Al-Sadr came to prominence in Iraq for his role in founding the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia group that fought against both Iraqi Sunni groups and U.S. and coalition forces following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Mehdi Army consistently clashed with U.S. and British forces throughout the occupation’ publicly demanding an end to the occupation.  In 2008 the Mehdi Army clashed with the Iraqi army, commanded by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, resulting in the arrest of many of his followers. Ultimately the Mehdi army agreed to give up arms and disband.

Ultimately al-Sadr reached a truce with Prime Minister al-Maliki. During the 2010 national elections in Iraq al-Sadr demonstrated his influence over Iraqi politics by backing Prime Minister al-Maliki of the Islamic Dawa Party. However, al-Maliki and al-Sadr relationship has become strained since the 2010 elections with the two men becoming strong political rivals, it is unclear how al-Sadr’s withdrawal from public life will affect the Prime Ministers influence in the country.

Saad Saloom, a professor of political science at Al Mustansiriya University, based in Bagdad, argued that al-Sadr’s followers may now through their support behind al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party. This could give al-Maliki a much stronger hold over Iraq’s Shiite majority populations, which may fear could further weaken the influence of the country’s Sunni minority. Saloom also argued of al-Sadr’s withdrawal from political life that it is “the first modern, unique step from a religious leader to put religion away from politics.”

Prime Minister al-Maliki will face a re-election challenge in April. While the ultimate impact of al-Sadr’s departure from public life will be for Iraq it is clear that the sudden retirement of al-Sadr will have an immediate effect on the Sadrist movement and the candidates it once backed.

For more information please see:

The New York Times – Iraqi Cleric, Exiting Politics, Urges Others to Keep Serving – 18 February 2014

Al Jazeera – Iraqi Cleric Sadr Retires From Politics – 16 February 2014

BBC News – Radical Iraqi Cleric Moqtada Sadr ‘To Retire From Politics’ – 16 February 2014

The New York Times – Iraqi Cleric Says Again He’ll Quit Politics – 16 February 2014

Boko Haram Crisis in Nigeria

By: Danielle L. Gwozdz
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – There are reports of a “massive” attack in northern Nigeria in the town of Bama. This occurred after the presidential spokesman said the army was “winning the war” against Islamist militants.

Attacks in Nigeria have intensified (photo courtesy of AFP)


The attack on Bama lasted four hours on Wednesday morning.

Several thousands have lost their lives since the Boko Haram uprising which began in 2009.

Residents have contacted BBC to report the attack, but details of the attack are still unclear.

Last year, a state of emergency was called in Borno and in two neighboring states. Thousands of extra troops were sent into the region, but the attacks have continued despite this effort.

BBC has stated that the army sometimes takes hours to even respond to an attack by Islamist militants. This allows the militants to kill; destroy homes, schools, and mosques; and loot before retreating.

On Saturday, 106 people were killed in an attack.

Governor Kashim Shettima called in for reinforcements for these attacks, but said the insurgents were “better armed and better motivated” than the security forces.

Governor Shettima has said that “it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.”

This statement, however, was denied.

Another stated that Nigeria’s army was one of the best equipped in Africa, going against Shettima’s statement.

“We state authoritatively without any fear or equivocation whatsoever that Nigeria is already winning the war against terror and the activities of the insurgents will be terminated within the shortest possible time,” a spokesman said.

For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Nigeria’s Boko Haram crisis: Bama attack mars victory claims – 19 February 2014
Myjoyonline – Boko Haram attack mars Nigeria’s victory claims – 19 February 2014
Wopular –
Attack Mars Nigeria’s Victory Claims – 19 February 2014
DailyPost –
Boko Haram: Shettima replies Presidency, says FG insensitive to plight of Borno State – 19 February 2014