Last month, three female members of a Russian punk band were given a harsh prison sentence for staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin, sparking international outrage. On Friday, the band’s representatives received a warm welcome in New York. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
They go by the name Pussy Riot, an all-female punk band whose work might be better described as protest art. A performance in Moscow’s main Orthodox Christian Cathedral in February, protesting Vladimir Putin, landed them in hot water.
"If you see the video of this performance, you will see that’s it peaceful," said Suzanne Nossel of Amnesty International USA. "There’s nothing violent. There’s nothing menacing or threatening about it. This was a peaceful expression that is fully protected under international law.”
But last month, three members were sentenced to two years in a prison camp on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
The case has prompted a global outpouring of support. Amnesty International designated them prisoners of conscience. And on Friday, Yoko Ono presented a peace prize to Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of one of the imprisoned women, and their 4-year-old daughter. Their team of attorneys also spoke at NYU Law School and earlier this week, Verzilov lobbied Congress for a measure that would sanction Putin administration officials guilty of human rights abuses.
“Law enforcement, judges, other people who support his policies are gravely scared of it because basically, it cuts off any chances outside of Russia for them," Verzilov said. "And this is a serious threat to them.”
Earlier this month, band members released a video, thanking supporters and burning a Putin poster.
Verzilov says those imprisoned are holding up well.
“They’re very, very strong women," he said. "And nothing seems to break their good spirits.”
An appeal of the case will be heard in Russian court on Oct. 1. Amnesty International says it’s organizing rallies in more than a hundred cities worldwide on that date, including in New York.