Even though the 2012 election had long since been a foregone conclusion to anyone with a basic understanding of the facts on the ground, there was still a fair deal of resistance to the inevitability of the soon-to-be reelection of Vladimir Putin. In addition to the ability to vote against Mr. Putin and participate in (the few remaining legal) opposition rallies, there were some off-the-beaten-path protests. One of the more notable ones came on the 21st of February, when a female punk rock group called Pussy Riot showed up at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour church in Moscow. After making the sign of the cross, they began to perform the song “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” as cameras rolled – the video intended for a music video. They were quickly whisked away by guards.
On the 3rd of March, the day before the election, two of the group’s members were arrested and charged with hooliganism. With the election of Mr. Putin sowed up in a total demolishing of the opposition the next day (63.6% for Mr. Putin, 17.18% for the next closest), the Russian legal system moved forward with making sure that the message was heard loud and clear: dissent against the established order will not be tolerated. A third member of the group was arrested on the 16th. The short trial began on the 30th of July and by the 17th of August the verdict was handed down – guilty, with two years imprisonment up next. The presiding judge, Judge Syrova, announced the verdict with this full-throated announcement that the not-state-religion (of which its leader strongly endorses Mr. Putin) trumps any freedom of speech concerns:
The Court considers that social justice and prevention of further possible crimes can only be achieved by restricting the defendants’ freedom and real imprisonment,” Judge Syrova said.
“By their actions, Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina seriously disrupted public order and the day-to-day running of the Cathedral. They showed blatant disrespect to church-goers and workers, and in doing so gravely offended their religious sensibilities.”