Russia: Court backs Pussy Riot members in human rights complaint against convictions and imprisonment

Judges have today backed  the Pussy Riot punk band’s human rights complaint against Russia.

The case Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia (application no. 38004/12) was brought by Mariya Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who were born in 1988, 1989, and 1982 respectively and live in Moscow.

The Russian women are members of the Russian feminist punk band, who give impromptu performances of their songs in various public areas dressed in brightly coloured balaclavas and dresses.

Under the court’s Article 41 (just satisfaction), the human rights judges declared that in respect of non-pecuniary damage, Russia was to pay 16,000 euros (EUR) each to Alekhina and Tolokonnikova and EUR 5,000 to Samutsevich. It also awarded EUR 11,760 in respect of costs and expenses.

The case concerned the conviction and imprisonment of three members of the Pussy Riot punk band for attempting to perform one of their protest songs in a Moscow cathedral in 2012.

The courts ruled in particular that their performance had been offensive and banned access to video recordings they had subsequently downloaded onto the Internet because they were “extremist.”

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case the European Court of Human Rights held:

by six votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights because of the overcrowded conditions of the band members’ transportation to and from the courtroom to attend hearings on their cases and because they had had to suffer the humiliation of being permanently exposed in a glass dock during their hearings, surrounded by armed police officers and a guard dog, despite no evident security risk;

unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention because the domestic courts had only given stereotyped reasons for keeping them in detention pending trial for five months;

unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (c) (right to a fair trial / right to legal assistance of own choosing) because the courtroom security arrangements, namely the glass dock and heavy security, had prevented the band members from communicating with their lawyers without being overheard during their one-month trial;

by six votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) because of the three band members’ conviction and prison sentences. The Court accepted that a reaction to breaching the rules of conduct in a place of religious worship might have been warranted.

However, it found that sentencing them to imprisonment for simply having worn brightly coloured clothes, waved their arms and kicked their legs around and used strong language, without analysing the lyrics of their song or the context of their performance, had been exceptionally severe; and,

unanimously, that there had been a further violation of Article 10 because of the ban on access to their video recordings on the Internet.

The domestic courts had not justified why the ban had been necessary. They had merely endorsed the overall findings of a linguistic expert report without making their own analysis.

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