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Russia: Democratic Public “Outraged” by Release of Pussy Riot Member

Last week, Pussy Riot defendant Yekaterina Samutsevich surprised many when she changed her lawyers and adopted a new defense strategy for her ongoing appeals process. At the time, there was no consensus among Russian bloggers about what exactly was happening or why. (Global Voices covered some of the theories here.) It now appears that Samutsevich’s gamble has paid off. She was freed after today’s hearing, her two-year prison sentence reduced to two years of probation. The other two imprisoned band members, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were not so lucky — the appellate court upheld their sentences (there is one more chance for appeal in Russia’s Supreme Court).

Samutsevich’s new and successful defense was predicated on the fact that she did not actively participate in the group’s performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This fact was pointed out by many bloggers last week, but it still appears to have been unexpected news for some people, who in turn questioned the court’s reasoning. Opposition activist and blogger Ilya Yashin tweeted [ru]:

Самуцевич освободили, т.к. она была задержана охраной до акции #PussyRiot в ХХС и по сути не участвовала. Но тогда надо вообще оправдывать.

Samutsevich was freed because she was detained before the #PussyRiot action and in essence did not participate. But then she should have been completely exonerated.

And then there were only two. Pussy Riot members appear in court to appeal two year jail sentence (October 1st, 2012), photo by Maria Pleshkova, copyright © Demotix.

Some bloggers have intimated that Samutsevich’s “inactive participation” was merely a pretext for the court's decision. She was really freed, the theory goes, because she decided on a non-confrontational defense strategy. Eduard Limonov, the leader of Other Russia, blogged [ru]:

Условный срок  для Смуцевич, – это благодарность ей за то, что она сменила адвоката. Одновременно это приговор против Виолетты Волковой,пощечина ей как профессионалу, которая  вела себя вызывающе-неумно, оскорбляла судью в некоторых случаях. Волкова превратилась фактически в революционно-оппозиционного трибуна, проигнорировав участь своей подзащитной.

A probation for Smutsevich [sic] is gratitude to her for switching her lawyer. At the same time, it’s a sentence against Violetta Volkova, a slap to her professionalism, since she conducted herself in a provocative, stupid manner, sometimes insulting the judge. Basically Volkova has become a revolutionary-opposition orator, having ignored the fate of her client.

Publicist Dmitry Olshansky similarly blogged [ru]:

Екатерину Самуцевич отпустили, потому что […] она отказалась от политических адвокатов, отказалась от политической войны с системой и в сущностном смысле попросила прощения у системы

Yekaterina Samutsevich was released because […] she renounced her political lawyers, renounced the political war on the system, and in essence asked the system for forgiveness.

Pavel Chikov, the chairman of Agora [ru], the human rights NGO now representing Samutsevich, agreed with Olshansky’s first point, tweeting [ru]:

Надо было биться за максимальный резонанс с жестким приговором либо за минимальную ответственность. Девушки выбрали первое, всё удалось.

The fight would have been either for maximum visibility and with a harsh sentence, or for minimal culpability. The girls chose the first, everything worked out.

However, he disputed [ru] that Samutsevich ever apologized:

Хочу подчеркнуть — Катя Самуцевич вину в совершении преступления не признала, заявила, что никакого раскола в группе нет.

I want to stress that Katya Samutsevich did not admit her guilt in committing a crime, and said that there is no schism in the group.

Some do not believe Samutsevich. To them, the new ruling is a way for the Kremlin to break up the punk group and the protest movement, or perhaps to attack the band's lawyers (Feygin, Polozov, and Volkova), who have defended the three young women since charges were first pressed. For example, journalist Tikhon Dzyadko tweeted [ru]:

По-моему, цель сегодняшнего решения-расколоть #PussyRiot и вылить побольше говна на тройку адвокатов.к закону это не имеет отношения.

In my opinion, the goal of today’s decision is to cause a schism among #PussyRiot and to pour some more shit on the trio of lawyers. It has nothing to do with the law.

One of these lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, is perhaps a little too eager [ru] to martyr himself:

Если властям мы настолько не любы и для освобождения Нади и Маши нужно пожертвовать статусом, я первый положу удостоверение адвоката на стол.

If the powers that be dislike us so much and if in order to free Nadya and Masha we need to give up our status, I will be the first to put my legal license on the table.

Oddly, some bloggers seem to pity the lawyers more than the remaining two imprisoned Pussy Riot members:

я смотрела на лица адвокатов и реально рыдала…

I watched the faces of the lawyers and literally wept…

says [ru] journalist Alexandra Astakhova in her Facebook. A commenter responded [ru]:

Главная их цель была дискредитация адвокатов — Самуцевич помогла, за помощь и освобождение.

Their main goal was to discredit the lawyers -– Samutsevich helped, in return for assistance and freedom.

As the last quote shows, some in this case cannot help but blame the victim. Although Samutsevich's conduct seems completely reasonable, the RuNet is full of thinly veiled accusations that she has somehow “sold out.” Perhaps the most thinly veiled of all belongs to journalist and philosophy lecturer Kirill Martynov, who wrote the following on his LiveJournal [ru]:

Екатерина Самуцевич получила свободу ценой оправдания российского суда и за счет дискредитации всей кампании в защиту Pussy Riot.

Yekaterina Samutsevich gained her freedom at the cost of vindicating the Russian courts and by discrediting the entire campaign for the defense of Pussy Riot.

Such over-the-top rhetoric is instant ammunition for the opposition movement's critics. Fake internet personality Lev Sharansky summed up the sentiment, wryly tweeting [ru]:

Все демократическая общественность до глубины души возмущена освобождением Самуцевич.

The democratic public is outraged to its core by the release of Samutsevich.

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