Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow. Founded in August 2011, it has a variable membership of approximately 11 women ranging in age from about 20 to 33. They stage unauthorised provocative guerrillaperformances in unusual public locations, which are edited into music videos and posted on the Internet. Their lyrical themes include feminism, LGBT rights, opposition to the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they regard as adictator, and links between Putin and the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On February 21, 2012, five members of the group staged a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Their actions were stopped by church security officials. By that evening, they had turned the performance into a music video entitled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” The women said their protest was directed at the Orthodox Church leader’s support for Putin during his election campaign.
On March 3, 2012, two of the group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were arrested and charged with hooliganism. A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was arrested on March 16. Denied bail, they were held in custody until their trial began in late July. On August 17, 2012, the three members were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, and each was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Two other members of the group, who escaped arrest after February’s protest, reportedly left Russia fearing prosecution.
The trial and sentence attracted considerable criticism, particularly in the West. The case was adopted by human rights groups including Amnesty International, which designated the women prisoners of conscience, and by a number of prominent entertainers. Public opinion in Russia was generally less sympathetic towards the women. Putin stated that the band had “undermined the moral foundations” of the nation and “got what they asked for ” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he did not think the three members of Pussy Riot should have been sent to jail, but stressed that the release of the remaining two imprisoned members was a matter for the courts. Having served 21 months, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released on December 23, 2013 after the State Duma approved an amnesty. In February 2014, a statement was made anonymously on behalf of some members of the group that both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were no longer members of Pussy Riot. However, both were among the group that performed as Pussy Riot during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where they were attacked with whips and pepper spray by Cossacks who were employed as security. On 6 March 2014, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were seriously assaulted and injured at a fast food outlet by local youths in Nizhny Novgorod.