Pussy Riot Prevails Against Russia In European Human Rights Court Ruling The European Court of Human Rights' ruling — and the release of new music from the activist and punk collective — comes two days after members of the group interrupted the World Cup final game.
NPR logo Pussy Riot Prevails Against Russia In European Human Rights Court Ruling

Pussy Riot Prevails Against Russia In European Human Rights Court Ruling

We Are Pussy Riot YouTube

The activist and punk-music collective Pussy Riot won an important, if largely symbolic, victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday. The decision comes on the heels of four of its members being sentenced July 16 for rushing onto the field during the World Cup Final while dressed as Russian police officers. Nearly simultaneously with the announcement of the court ruling, the group released a new song and video related to its Sunday protest.

The European court issued a ruling regarding the high-profile arrest and conviction of three other Pussy Riot members for staging a "punk prayer" protest at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 2012 .

According to the ECHR, the three women from Pussy Riot arrested for the 2012 action — Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova — were imprisoned "for simply having worn brightly colored clothes, waved their arms and kicked their legs around and used strong language, without analyzing the lyrics of their song or the context of their performance." In addition, the court found that the Russian authorities had "only given stereotyped reasons" for detaining the women for five months pending trial, had prevented them from communicating with their lawyers and had treated them harshly — including keeping them in a glass cage, surrounded by armed police and a guard dog, during the trial. The ECHR also found that Russia had banned the women's videos online without justification.

The ECHR has ordered Russia to pay approximately $57,000 in damages and expenses to Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich. (Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova served 22 months of their sentences; Samutsevich's sentence was suspended.) In a statement issued Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Justice said that the European ruling was not yet in effect and that the decision could be appealed within the next three months.

The European court's decision coincides with the release of a new song and video that Pussy Riot calls "Track About Good Cop." Both in its timing and content, "Track About Good Cop" follows the World Cup protest, which the group is calling "Policeman Enters The Game"; both also borrow a metaphor from the late Russian poet Dimitri Prigov about a morally just officer of the law.

The song was written by a producer named CHAIKA and Pussy Riot's arguably most famous member — the previously imprisoned Nadya Tolokonnikova — and pairs a glossy, dance-pop sound with utopian lyrics.

According to a press release issued on Tuesday by the group, the songwriters behind "Track About Good Cop" dream of an "alternative political reality in which instead of arresting activists and putting them in jail, cops are joining activists. The world where cops got rid of homophobia, stopped the war on drugs and actually understood that it's much better to be joyful and nice to people."

The lyrics also include allusions to articles in the Russian criminal code that refer to drugs, terrorism charges, placements of people into mental hospitals and "public insults of a representative of power." Through a publicist, Pussy Riot tells NPR that these elements of the criminal code are specifically being used by the government against activists.

Along with the release of "Track About Good Cop," Pussy Riot issued nine demands of the Russian government on Tuesday. Some repeat calls the group made on Sunday, including asking the government to stop jailing people for social media "likes" and sharing, as well as making arrests at political rallies. Others are new, including asking the government to release the four Pussy Riot members — Olga Pahtusova, Olga Kuracheva, Nika Nikulshina, Peter Verzilov — currently serving 15-day sentences for their disruption of the World Cup final game. (Pahtusova's name has been widely transliterated as "Pakhtusova.")

The collective is also demanding the release of all political prisoners, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who in 2015 was given a 20-year sentence on charges of plotting terrorism attacks. Among those who have spoken out against Sentsov's conviction and captivity are French president Emmanuel Macron, writer Stephen King, journalist Christiane Amanpour and filmmaker Wim Wenders. The group's demands also include the cancellation of Article 282 in the Russian criminal code ("Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as Well as Abasement of Human Dignity"), which Pussy Riot calls "one of the main political criminal articles" of Russia's federal laws, and to stop imprisoning large numbers of people for drug offenses.

Pussy Riot is also asking for general freedom of speech and expression in Russia; a national TV channel to be given to the group's own media outlet, Mediazona, and for the government to "stop f****** with Navalny," an apparent reference to lawyer and prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny, a leader of the Russian opposition.

Correction July 18, 2018

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the four members of Pussy Riot involved in rushing the field during the World Cup Final on July 15 were arrested and sentenced on June 16 — they were arrested on July 15 and sentenced on July 16.