Around the world Friday, protests were held in support of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to two years in jail for their protest against the president in a church. In Toronto, about 100 people gathered outside the Russian Consulate.
Earlier this week, it was announced that various cities would host demonstrations against Russian President Vladimir Putin and to call for the release of Pussy Riot. The trio’s actions, which involved calling for the Virgin Mary to protect the country from Putin in February, were described as “sacrilegious” and “blasphemous” by Judge Marina Syrova, who spent three hours reading the verdict.
Pussy Riot has generated support from famous musicians, including Madonna and Paul McCartney, and from around the world. In Toronto, which is one of several dozen cities holding protests, more than 100 activists, concerned citizens and supporters of Pussy Riot stood in front of the Russian Consulate at noon-time at the corner of Bloor and Church Streets.
The large crowd sported the famous ski masks that the feminist punk group wears. The music of Pussy Riot was also played, while many held placards that stated, “Up yours Putin,” “Vladimir Pussy Free Riot Now” and “Down with totalitarianism; up with Pussy Riot.” A number of people etched “Free Pussy Riot” on the ground with chalk.
A handful of police officers were present as well as security guards.
“After hearing the verdict this morning, I am left disappointed and I am angry, but I am not left without help,” stated one protester, who had “Free Pussy Riot” written on her body. “That is because I am looking around and seeing all these people here and I’m so happy to be a part of this. We’re a global community of not only women, but of people, and this is a human rights issue. If you’re not angry you should be.”
One demonstrator of Russian descent grabbed the bullhorn and explained the situation transpiring in the nation (see video above). She stated that the government’s actions against Pussy Riot was politically motivated and had nothing to do with religious beliefs.
“I just want everyone to know that there is no justice in Russia. Everyone has to know there is no democracy, there is no freedom of speech and that’s outrageous. The country has been thrown back to the [Joseph] Stalin time.”
Justin Trottier, Canada national communications director and spokesperson for the Centre for Inquiry, stated that protests like Friday’s and the actions of Pussy Riot help raise awareness to the rest of the world of the close ties between the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I think this is a case that really exemplifies the dangers for any nation in violating church-state separation and in mixing religion with the strong-arm of government,” stated Trottier.
Following the verdict, former world chess champion and pro-democracy activist Garry Kasparov was arrested outside the Moscow court. On his official Facebook page, it was also noted that he was allegedly beaten by police officers.
A BBC News video shows Kasparov speaking with journalists and then being detained by the police and dragged to a police van nearby.
“We just spoke to Garry on the phone. He is at the police station. He was beaten but says he is okay. He isn't sure what will happen next. It seems the police are waiting for orders from above,” the update said.
Putin was elected to a third term in office earlier this year after serving from 1999 to 2008 as president and from 2008 to 2012 as prime minister.