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Pussy Riot protesters run afoul of ban

Oct. 22, 2012 at 1:45 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Women in solidarity with the Russian Pussy Riot protesters are the latest to challenge an arcane New York law banning masks in political demonstrations.

Three women were arrested outside the Russian Consulate in New York while protesting the prison sentences levied against Pussy Riot members who staged a punk music protest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three women in the New York protest wore identical brightly colored balaclavas -- the same kind the women in the band wore. The outfits obscured the women's faces, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Those outfits ran afoul of a state law banning masks during protests that dates back to 1845, passed after farmworkers in the Hudson Valley disguised themselves as American Indians when attacking landowners. It includes exceptions for masquerades and other costume-related public events.

Attorney Norman Siegel representing the three New York women, said the law is unconstitutional because it violates his clients' right to free expression.

"We believe this law is overly broad," Siegel said. "Political protest is a quintessential freedom of expression."

Police have used the mask law to break up other protests including a 1999 Ku Klux Klan rally. An appeals judge ultimately upheld the state's enforcement of the mask law and rejected the Klan's argument that their face-obscuring hoods were central to their political statements regarding race.

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