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This is a Cold War - Amnesty Interviews Katia from Pussy Riot

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    Monday, June 10, 2013 - 15:47

    ‘This is a Cold War’Katia from Pussy riot speaks with Amnesty about band mates still in prison

    Pussy riot member Ekaterina (Katia) Samutsevich talks to Amnesty International about her activism, life after prison, and her band mates who are still in prison

    Katia Samutsevich was released last October after spending 178 days in prison for performing a “punk prayer” in a church, as part of feminist punk band Pussy Riot. They criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church officials who supported him.

    Why did you choose to protest against Putin in this way?

    “Pussy Riot is political art. If you are an artist you can’t help but react to political tendencies in your country, especially the state’s attitude towards civil society and the wide gap between society and the state elite.”

    What did all the activism surrounding your trial and sentence mean to you?

    “We wanted to protest against the Russian Orthodox Church, [and its] Patriarch Kirill; against Putin and sexist tendencies. The support we received took this  already ongoing discussion in Russian society to a new level. We didn’t expect it to become so widely discussed around the world – and so acutely in Russia.

    Besides, the state authorities don’t just use handcuffs and arrests, but also use media attacks. There’s a constant flow of misinformation, of utter defamation. It’s difficult to convince people that it isn’t all true.

    Photo stunt to free Pussy Riot in Venezuela, September 2012.The campaigns supporting us stood against all that. Many people saw Pussy Riot’s supporters and thought: ‘Strangely, despite them being so bad and blasphemous, many people support them. Maybe things aren’t exactly as they say on Channel One [one of the main Russian TV channels]?’ That struggle was very important and truly necessary.

    It also influenced many people that international organizations, including Amnesty International, declared us prisoners of conscience, and that celebrities, including Madonna, Sting and others, showed their support.”

    Do the conditions of your suspended sentence restrict you a lot?

    “In general, no. But I notice that I’m sometimes under surveillance, quite explicitly. Several times on the subway I’ve seen someone clearly doing a video recording. Other Pussy Riot members are also followed.

    Apparently the authorities fear that we’re planning another protest, and that’s why they’re keeping an eye on us. But this isn’t professional surveillance. They either lack experience or are simply sending us a message: ‘You are being watched’.

    My phone is tapped, I’m sure of that. So of course I watch what I say.”

    Are you afraid to continue to participate in protest activities in Russia?

    Police stand guard as a woman protests outside a Moscow court in July 2012. The writing on her chest reads: ‘Freedom for Pussy Riot’.“No. Nobody’s threatened me, nothing has happened. I see signs of a different war, a media war. Someone is seemingly trying to supervise us indirectly, without violence, without killing, without threatening. This is a cold war. Direct approaches won’t work; the whole world would be outraged. They’ve chosen a different strategy, at least for now.”

    Do you think the threats made against Masha Alekhina by her cellmates are part of the media war, or are they real?

    “I believe it’s a real threat. I read the interviews with inmates in Masha’s unit. It was because of their threats that Masha filed a complaint and was put into a punishment isolation cell.

    It is unclear how the penal colony administration will keep Masha safe. It also shows the chaos in the colony, because her cellmates are repeat offenders serving their second or third term. It’s prohibited to keep such prisoners in the same cells and units as those serving their first term. Their psychology has been
    completely changed, they have a different understanding of where humanity ends."
     

    What key tendencies can you see now in Russia?

    “Authoritative power and repressive measures are being strengthened. And laws contradicting the Constitution are being easily and quietly adopted, without much resistance. There are also obvious right-wing tendencies. A particular path has been chosen, close to neo-fascism.

    The tip of the iceberg is the laws prohibiting ‘propaganda of homosexuality among minors’. It’s a little step along the way of limiting rights. Just like the non-profit organizations law, the high treason law, all of these weird laws.

    Mass media has shut up, so often you can’t see what is actually happening.”

    What can the Pussy Riot case teach Russian society?

    “It would be good if it taught people some critical thinking. People aren’t used to seeing protest political art – they don’t understand that it’s a critical gesture. They are shocked by it and, under the influence of official propaganda, think that it is anti-Russian and commissioned by the West. Our state authorities will do anything to make people think that [protest] art is some kind of hooliganism.

    But many people have realized that something is wrong here. They’ve seen what’s happened, read our interviews, see our work. Many have started taking interest in political feminist art. Next time they see someone doing something publicly or posting media work online, they will recognize it as art and not
    hooliganism.”

    Is it scary to be a protest activist in Russia these days?

    “It depends on what kind of activist you are. We aren’t so hardcore. In my view, being hardcore is having sensitive information. Then your life will be short. Artistic political activity is not that dangerous. What happened to us probably happened because the Presidential elections were coming up in March last year.

    But the fact that Nadya and Masha are in jail, that they aren’t being released despite the fact that they have children, is a new means of intimidation. After this, will anyone with kids want to participate in such activities? That is a peculiar kind of cruelty – a propagandist cruelty. It’s important to fight this somehow.”

    Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members (from left) Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage during a court appeal hearing in Moscow, Russia, 1 October 2012.
     

    Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members (from left) Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage during a court appeal hearing in Moscow, Russia, 1 October 2012.

    Read about their release

     

     

    Other photos: Top: Katia Samutsevich being interviewed at Amnesty Russia’s office in Moscow, February 2013. Second: Photo stunt to free Pussy Riot in Venezuela, September 2012; Third: Police stand guard as a woman protests outside a Moscow court in July 2012. The writing on her chest reads: ‘Freedom for Pussy Riot&rsquo.

    This story originally appeared in WIRE, Amnesty International's newsletter for worldwide human rights supporters
     

     

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