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Published on January 17th, 2013 | by Madeline Schiesser

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Court Turns Down Pussy Riot Band Member Appeal

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BEREZNIKI, Russia – Maria Alyokhina’s 5-year-old son, Filipp, will likely not see his mother for nearly two years.  The 24-year-old member of the punk rock band Pussy Riot lost her appeal yesterday requesting a deferral of her prison sentence until her son was older.  Instead, Alyokhina, convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” over a “punk prayer” aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin last winter, will serve out the remainder of her incarceration until 2014.

Maria Alyokhina’s request to serve her sentence when her son is older was denied by a Russian court. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

In her plea, Alyokhina reasoned that Filipp, in his formative years, would suffer irreparable psychological damage from long-term separation from his mother.  “I’m in a situation where I have to prove here that my son needs me, which is obvious,” she said.  Instead, she asked to be allowed to serve her sentence when her son is 14.

However, the Berezniki court in the Perm region of the Urals Mountains near where she is jail, determined that the length of Alyokhina’s sentence already reflected her role as a mother.  In rejecting the petition, Judge Galina Yefremova stated that “the fact that Alyokhina has a young child was taken into account by Moscow’s Khamovnichesky court.”  Because Alyokhina had showed “[n]o new circumstances,” she will remain in prison at Corrective Labor Colony No. 28, 750 miles north-east of her family in Moscow.

Unfortunately, sentence deferrals are uncommon.  In several prison colonies, female prisoners raise their children in jail.

Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted in August of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for a “punk prayer” protesting the Putin presidency.  Samutsevich was later released on a suspended sentence.  (See Conviction Upheld for 2 Pussy Riot Members, 1 Released for more information.)  All three have refused to admit any wrongdoing.

“No-one will force me to say I’m guilty – I have nothing to repent for,” Alyokhina said earlier in court.

Tolokonnikova launched a similar deferral appeal in October.

Amnesty International has characterized the denied appeal as a “travesty of justice.”  The organization considers Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova to be prisoners of conscience and believes that their sentences were politically motivated.  David Diaz-Jogeix, Deputy Program Director for Europe and Central Asia says that the decision shows “the Russian authorities are uncompromising in their suppression of freedom of expression” and that the verdict was “in line with the suppressive policies of the Russian authorities, stifling dissent in any form.”

Alyokhina has described her existence at the prison colony as “an anti-life.”  “Everything around is grey. Even if something is another color, all the same it has an element of grey. Everything: the buildings, food, the sky, words,” she says.

In addition to the monotony, life at the prison colony consists of adjusting to a strict set of rules and few resources.  The women must rise at 5:30 am, and forty prisoners share a bathroom with three basins and two toilets.  They have learned the prison rules by rote in a special room with a security camera.  Activities include stringing together cigarettes, and sewing nametags onto their uniforms.  In a workshop, female prisoners sew for 12 hours a day and receive a maximum pay of 1,000 rubles ($32.57) a month.

Alyokhina explained that one’s entire mindset is focused on following the rules in order to receive early parole.  Points are awarded for visiting the library and the psychologist, contacting relatives, and even going to a prayer room, although Russia is actually a secular state.  “Everything a prisoner does is to get a tick for early parole,” she said.

However, early in her stay at the colony, Alyokhina stated her intent to maintain her autonomy, saying “we make different choices in a hopeless situation.”  This attitude may have brought her into conflict with other prisoners.  In November, Alyokhina was transferred to solitary confinement, at her own request, because other inmates were said to be behaving aggressively towards her after she refused to join them in a hunger strike.

In the meantime, Filipp is staying with his grandmother, but, according to Tolokonnikova’s husband, the boy “is small and misses his mother.”

For further information, please see:

Moscow Times – Court Turns Down Pussy Riot Appeal – 17 January 2013

Amnesty International – Russian Punk Singer Refused Sentence Deferral – 16 January 2013

BBC News – Russia Court Turns Down Pussy Riot Jail Plea Over Child – 16 January 2013

RFE/RL – Russian Court Denies Pussy Riot Member’s Appeal – 16 January 2013

The Journal – Jailed Pussy Riot Member Slams Routine in ‘Grey’ Camp – 18 December 2013


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