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Pussy Riot v. Russia

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    August 17, 2012
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment
  • Case Number
    1-170/12
  • Region & Country
    Russian Federation, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Hate Speech, Indecency / Obscenity, Public Order

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock protest group, was convicted of hooliganism for performing a song criticizing President Putin. The court convicted the rock group despite their argument that the song was an act of political protest and should be protected under free speech principles.


Facts

On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock protest group, performed for one minute a song criticizing President Putin and other senior Russian officials. The song was performed in the largest Russian Orthodox Church on an altar to which access is restricted. The songs also had obscenities in them. Members of the clergy and church security unsuccessfully attempted in halting Pussy Riot’s singing.

Pussy Riot was arrested several weeks after the performance and criminally charged with hooliganism. Pussy Riot’s defense was that their performance was a political statement through art rather than one motivated by hatred.


Decision Overview

First, the court established that conspiracy to commit hooliganism existed. This was established through Pussy Riot’s members divided roles and responsibilities among each other their clothes that defied the acceptable church standards. Pussy Riot argued that their clothes were part of a performance, including masks, which the prosecutor argued was to hide identity.

Pussy Riot argued that its clothes should have been judged by secular standards, rather than religious ones. The court rejected this argument, clarifying that religious standards are applied only as necessary. Further, the court supported its conclusion of conspiracy by declaring that Pussy Riot contacted numerous bloggers and activists to be present at the event.

The judge ruled that Pussy Riot offended the Orthodox believers present at the church by performing on the main church altar restricted only for members of the Orthodox clergy. The judge explained that the defendants’ statements to lack of conspiracy are a strategy to avoid criminal responsibility and are thus not trustworthy. The judge then declared that the lyrics of Pussy Riot’s songs included statements offensive to Orthodox Christians. The judge accepted statements of eleven Orthodox Christians, their belief was established by the court, who witnessed the performance. All eleven witnesses found the performance offensive to their beliefs.

The judge also accepted a conclusion of a psycho-linguistic expert panel that determined Pussy Riot’s performance violated standards of behavior in public and offended Orthodox Christians.In addition, the judge accepted into evidence, a letter from the Russian Mufti, the head of Islam in Russia, which criticized Pussy Riot as offensive to Islam and likely other religions. The judge went further to explain that feminism is contradictory to some religious beliefs, and these contradictions may cause hatred or conflict in the modern world.

Moreover, the judge believed that the defendants exhibited hatred towards religion during the trial through their reactions to witness statements and behavior. The judge also concluded that Pussy Riot’s purpose was to violate public order because Pussy Riot shared its performance on the internet. Lastly, the court rejected Pussy Riot’s defense of the performance being political speech. The court based its rejection on witness statements that Pussy Riot did not state any political agendas or name any politicians during its performance.

Therefore, the Khamovniki Moscow District Court found Pussy Riot to be guilty of criminal hooliganism (Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, Article 213, Section 2). The court explained that the act of hooliganism was a severe violation of public order that clearly offended the public, and committed on the basis of religious hatred and motivated by hatred of a social group, by a group of persons acting in conspiracy.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This decision contracts freedom of expression by criminalizing the act of political protest through song.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Russ., Crim. Code, art. 213, sec. 2

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:


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