2012-07-02 10:06:00

Russian ombudsman: Pussy Riot singers' being in jail "against our law"

Vladivostok, Russia, July 2, Interfax - Russia's ombudsman said in a television program that it is "absolutely against our law" that three women punk rock singers arrested in February for a scandalous anti-Putin performance in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral are still in jail.

"There's one problem that must be solved as soon as possible - it should preferably have been solved yesterday: why on earth are they still behind bars?" Human Rights Commissioner told Russia's Rossiya 1 television. "Why are they behind bars without a prompt trial?"

It is "absolutely against our law" that the three members of the Pussy Riot band are still in jail for performing, with faces covered with masks, a punk rock-style prayer inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21 in which they asked God to deliver Russia from the rule of President Vladimir Putin.

"So they must be released. If there is a reason to put them on trial, let there be a trial, but my personal opinion is that it's an administrative case that is, of course, reprehensible, but no more than that," Lukin said.

"Some people are demanding that those ladies repent," he said, adding that he expected that "in 15 or 20 years they will, most likely, repent."

"But coercion as a way to achieve repentance is a totally unacceptable thing, one that smacks of Soviet-era dust," Lukin said.

This week 103 key figures in Russia's arts published an open letter in defense of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

The Rossiya 1 program presenter asked whether Lukin would have put his signature to the letter, which appeared in Moscow daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

"I don't think that the commissioner, being, after, all a pretty individual figure, would be well-advised to sign collective letters. But essentially, I agree with much of what those respected citizens have written," Lukin said.

He also said he had raised the Pussy Riot case during a recent meeting with Putin.

"My position," Lukin said, "is basically that, first of all, these young women behaved quite inappropriately, scandalously, and in that sense I don't, of course, have any sympathy for them. Secondly, in a secular state this is by no means a criminal case but an administrative one at most. But the main point is that it's a reason for serious thought."

Film director Nikita Mikhalkov commented on the letter in the same program.

He said he would "never" have signed the letter. "Because this letter was signed by 103 persons, we know all of them. But if I take a signature roll with a text of opposite content and go through one city, not even through the country, I'll be able to collect 130,000 signatures against it," Mikhalkov said.

He dismissed the point in the letter that the punk-style prayer inflicted no material damage on anyone. "Millions of people were insulted," he said. He personally had been insulted as well. "I'm absolutely prepared to call myself an injured party," he added.

He suggested that, as punishment, the singers should "not be jailed but should be made to do the same inside a mosque in Mecca or at the Wailing Wall, and then they should be helped to take shelter inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior from pious Muslims or Orthodox Jews.

"We are convinced," the letter said in part, "that Nadezhda Tolokonikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich must be released and that the criminal proceedings against them must be quashed or requalified as administrative proceedings."

The signatories included Oleg Basilashvili, Liya Akhedzhakova, Chulpan Khamatova, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Dmitry Bertman, Andrei Zvyagintsev, Vladimir Mironov, and Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

The Pussy Riot performance set off a powerful public backlash.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich were arrested and charged with hooliganism. They have had their term of detention extended repeatedly. Their current term expires on July 24.

Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience.

Even the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed disquiet at their remaining in jail. "Many are indignant that the investigation is taking too long, that they are being kept locked up for too long. But there's nothing the Church can do about this," Moscow Patriarchate spokesman deacon Alexander Volkov told reporters recently.