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Russia: A Schism Between Pussy Riot Member and Defense Team?

The Pussy Riot case, all but forgotten by Russian bloggers a few weeks after the guilty verdict, is enjoying a resurgence of attention. The day before appellate hearings were due to start, Ekaterina Samutsevich, one of the three convicted members of the punk band, announced that she was dissatisfied with her lawyers and was going to find new ones. She did not give detailed reasons for her dissatisfaction.

The judge approved, recusing her lawyer, Violetta Volkova, and moving the court session to October 10, 2012.

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Ekaterina Samutsevich sits in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow. Moscow, Russia. 8th August 2012, photo by Maria Pleshkova, copyright © Demotix.

Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Ekaterina Samutsevich sits in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow. Moscow, Russia. 8th August 2012, photo by Maria Pleshkova, copyright © Demotix.

Samutsevich made her decision Saturday, September 29t after member of Moscow’s Public Oversight Commission and candidate to the Coordinating Council of the opposition, Anna Karetnikova, visited the young women in prison, and asked them if they were satisfied with their lawyers. While two of them said yes, Samutsevich decided to switch, as described [ru] in Karetnikova’s blog.

The three lawyers who have been vocally representing Pussy Riot (Volkova, Mark Feygin, and Nikolai Polozov) immediately reacted on Twitter. Their responses were rather passive-aggressive. Polozov, for example, seemed to deny Samutsevich’s agency [ru] in this matter:

Я уважаю любой выбор своих подзащитных. Но в случае с Катей не исключаю что решение было ей принято под давлением.

I respect any choice of my clients. But in the case of Katya, I do not rule out that her decision was made under pressure.

He elaborated [ru]:

Разводка простая, одну продавливают на раскаяние и дают условку, остальных топят по полной. Иезуитский подход.

The swindle is simple, one gets forced to repent and is given probation, the others are hung out to dry. Jesuitical approach.

Mark Feygin was more direct [ru]:

Итак, пара-другая существенных вещей. Адвокат Виолетта Волкова один из лучших и профессиональных адвокатов. Идиот, кто думает по другому.

So, a couple of essential things. Lawyer Violetta Volkova is one of the best and professional lawyers. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.

Volkova herself blamed a group [ru] of Samutsevich’s friends and public activists [ru] (led by Yaroslav Nikitenko and Anno Komarov) of convincing her to make the switch:

[...] эта команда предложила всем девушкам от нас отказаться.

[...] this crew suggested all the girls fire us.

Volkova conjectured that such a move was motivated by jealousy on the part of the activists. At the same time she insinuated [ru] that they are Kremlin shills.

И есть риторический вопрос – кто стоит за Никитенко и компанией…

There is a rhetorical question – who is behind Nikitenko and company.

The lawyers weren’t the only ones to call the whole situation an infernal plot by the Kremlin [ru], say that Samutchevich was “broken [ru]” by the secret services, or claim secret knowledge from anonymous sources [ru] that Samutsevich made a deal in return for freedom — all before her new defenders or their strategy were disclosed. Of course, such accusations looked somewhat silly a couple of days later, after it was announced [ru] that Samutsevich will now be represented by Irina Hrunova, one of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyers during his first trial.

Meanwhile, some bloggers and members of the opposition have criticized the three lawyers’ conduct — both during the trial and in response to Samutsevich’s actions.

Yaroslav Nikitenko, one of Samutsevich’s friends accused by the lawyers of influencing her, blogged [ru] his side of the story:

Катя написала нам письмо, своему близкому другу. В этом письме она также что-то упоминала об адвокатах, и сказала, что хотела бы нового адвоката. [...] Я думаю, что если мы решили уважать мнение подзащитной – то его надо уважать целиком.

Katya wrote us a letter, to her close friend. In this letter she also mentioned something about lawyers, and said that she would like a new lawyer. [...] I think that if we’ve decided to respect the opinion of a client – it should be respected wholly.

Nikitenko and friends then found a lawyer that could consult Samutsevich in this matter. What was the real reason for her decision? One can only guess. For example, DemVybor activist viking-nord thinks [ru] that Pussy Riot’s defense was too political and showy:

Для привлечения внимания публики это позиция годная, но с точки зрения смягчения приговора [...] такая позиция на самом деле вредна

This is a good position for attracting public attention, but from the side of reducing the sentence a position like this is actually harmful.

Ukrainian political activist Alexander Volodarsky, also wrote [ru] that the defense is more concerned with increasing their own visibility (recently there has been talk about nominating the three lawyers for the Nobel Peace Prize). Volodarskytweeted [ru] this accusation at Feygin:

то есть вы публично объявляете Катю недееспособной и не несущей ответственность за свою судьбу?

so you are publicly calling Katya legally incapable and unable to take responsibility for her fate?

Feygin did not respond.

Lev Sharansky, a long running fake internet persona and combination of Soviet dissident clichés, quipped [ru] rather rudely about Volkova’s weight:

Катя Самуцевич видимо поняла,что ввезти в рай на своем горбу полтора центнера Виолетты Волковой, ей все таки не по плечу.

Katya Samutsevich apparently realized that she won’t be able to swing carrying Violetta Volkova’s hundredweight-and-a-half into heaven on her own back.

Then there is the question of guilt. Samutsevich is the only one of the three convicted band members who did not actually dance near the altar. Rather, she was ejected from the cathedral prior to the performance. Nikolai Troitsky wonders [ru] why she was convicted in the first place and:

И как так вышло, что об этом вопиющем факте не вопят, не кричат криком мои коллеги – так называемые журналисты, а главное – заткнулись и молчат в тряпочку хваленые адвокаты [...]?

How did it turn out that this glaring fact is ignored by my colleagues – so called journalists, and more importantly kept silent by the vaunted lawyers [...]?

The behavior of the lawyers is odd in other regards. Most recently Violetta Volkova appears to have refused to turn over some of her copies of case materials to Samutsevich’s new defense representatives. She explained her motives in a tweet [ru], saying that she spent a week copying the documents,

за распечатку которых отдала 12000 из личных средств.

for the printing of which I spent 12000 [rubles] of my own money.

12,000 rubles is approximately $400 US. We may never know what exactly happened to turn Samutchevich against her defense team, but petty bickering seems like it could be a strong contender.

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