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Pussy Riot is taking Russia to court for human rights violations

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were sent to prison for hooliganism after performing anti-Putin songs in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
By Aileen Graef   |   July 29, 2014 at 5:10 PM   |   Comments

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MOSCOW, July 29 (UPI) -- Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are taking Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over their convictions.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina both served 21 months in prison after being convicted on hooliganism charges before receiving amnesty in December. The two women are demanding the Kremlin pay 120,000 euros ($160,912) each in compensation and 10,000 euros ($13,409) in court fees.

"They didn't get fair trial here in Russia so they want to get it finally in the European Court of Human Rights," said Pavel Chikov, the head of the human rights group representing the two women. "Plus they want this case to set a precedent that Russians can speak publicly on sensitive political issues, even if this speech is not supported by majority. This is a case about freedom of expression and fair trial first of all."

Russians, though, have not shown much sympathy for group. Surveys taken during the trial showed that 86 percent of Russians believed they should be punished and most favored the punishment to be the form of a harsh fine or forced labor.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were sent to a prison camp where they began a hunger strike to protest the conditions in the prison. During the trial, they stood in a cage with police officers with dogs nearby. In the case, they are claiming that the way they were treated amounted to torture, which is banned by the European Convention on Human Rights. The same document guarantees rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security, and a fair trial.

"People saw them in a glass cage all the time next to police dogs, and the whole thing proved to everyone that they were guilty before they were found guilty by the court," Chikov said. "The practice in Russia where people are put in glass or metal cages in the courtroom has nothing to do with a fair trial and violates the presumption of innocence."

The Russian government responded to the complaint, calling it "completely unfounded," and said it was "deliberately provocative behavior in a place that is dedicated to the spiritual needs of believers and is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox community clearly undermines tolerance and cannot be seen as a normal, sincere exercise of the rights of the convention."

Follow @AileenGraef and @UPI on Twitter.
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