‘Pussy Riot’ attorneys speak at NYU Law

Margaret Eby for WSN

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin, Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee.” These are the words sung by the Russian punk rock band, Pussy Riot, on the alter of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral on Feb. 21.

On Aug. 17, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted of premeditated hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison.

This afternoon, the NYU School of Law hosted a panel discussion, titled “Pussy Riot and Protest: The Future of Dissent in Putin’s Russia and Beyond,” to deliberate about the future of the band’s three imprisoned members.

The guests included the defense attorneys Nikolai Polozov, Mark Feygin, Violetta Volkova and Alisa Obraztsova, an assistant to the defendents’ lawyers. Petya Verzilov, Tolokonnikova’s husband, also sat with the panel.

The event was sponsored by the Department of Performance and the Department of Art and Public Policy at Tisch School of the Arts’ Studies, and sponsored by NYU Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Art Law Society.

“Our defense is completely innocent,” Feygin immediately said. “This is not a question of law but a political struggle.” He later added that their protest was a short political action that lasted only 40 seconds and should have been punished with a small fine.

Obraztsova said because of the Pussy Riot protest, Russia has turned to the discussion of church and state.

“The main tense discussion in Russia is the existence of god and his influence on our minds,” Obraztsova said. “The question of god has become a political question.”

One member of the audience asked the panel to compare the Pussy Riot protest to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

“In terms of the Occupy Movement in America, despite all of the problems it is facing, it is taking place in a democracy,” Feygin said. “Russia has no democracy. That is a very big difference.”

Karen Finley, a Tisch Art and Public Policy professor, believes protest art has the ability to instigate change.

“Eventually these kinds of acts of disruption do have an impact,” Finley said. “If it didn’t [the members of The Pussy Riot] wouldn’t have been arrested. We’ll see what [will] happen, but I think the world is asking for women’s roles in church and where women stand in the patriarchy to be challenged.

Amy Adler, NYU professor of law and organizer of the event, sees this panel as a unique opportunity for NYU students.

“The [Pussy Riot] case has come to symbolize international crisis over free speech and human rights and has taken on a life of its own,” said Adler. “Given the opportunity that we had to talk to the lawyers we thought it was a unique position for the NYU law school to actually get some inside [views] in to russian legal system.”

“[The panel] touches on interests that span our faculty from people who do human rights to people who do free speech, to experts on Russia like Stephen Holmes,” she said. “So we just thought it would be a cool way to bring together a variety of interests on a cutting edge topic.”

As for the future of Pussy Riot, the legal defense will file a constitutional reexamination on Oct. 1. If they are denied, Obraztsova said the three girls will most likely be transported to three different prisons outside of Moscow where the living conditions are far beyond the level of acceptable.

Yoko Ono honored the women with the LennonOno Grant for Peace at a ceremony in New York today. Verzilov received the award on behalf of Pussy Riot.

In a previous version of this article, WSN reported that the legal defense will file an appeal on Oct. 1. In fact, they will file a constitutional reexamination. WSN also reported that the Pussy Riot received an award from Yoko Ono yesterday. In fact they received it today. WSN regrets the errors.

Additional reporting by Nicola Pring. Katya Barannik is deputy features editor. Nicola Pring is features editor. Email them at [email protected]

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