Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Russia: Reading Aloud in Public Is Illegal (Protest against the Torture of Russian Prisoners)

On November 26, a protest against the torture of Russian prisoners took place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow. The protest was occasioned by the conflict in penal colony № 6 in Kopeisk. Police detained more than ten people during the protest.

This is how the protest was announced on Facebook:

On November 26 at 6:00 p.m, a protest against torture in Russian prisons will take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service at Zhitnaya 14.

We protest against torture in Russian prisons and support the inmates in Kopeisk, who spoke out against bullying, extortion and sexual abuse. During the protest, we will be reading prisoners’ stories of torture and humiliation aloud. We are convinced that the public should be aware of what is actually going on in Russian prisons. And not just be aware, but try and stop this nightmare.

At penal colony no. 6 in Kopeisk in the Chelyabinsk region, more than a thousand prisoners have for several days refused to go inside in protest against torture and beatings. Silently, lined up, they stand in the cold for several hours. They refuse to eat, believing that it is better to die than to continue to suffer torture, humiliation and blackmail.
A group of convicts seized the guard tower in the industrial area of the colony and hung up a banner with the message “People, help us!” Riot police were deployed to the colony; they attacked prisoners’ relatives who had gathered outside the prison gates. People were beaten bloody and the windows of their cars were smashed. Among the victims was human rights activist Oksana Trufanova. “I heard [the command] ‘Beat!’ and the relatives were attacked by men in black masks and uniforms wielding clubs,” she said in an interview. “Everyone fled, but [the riot police] ran many people down. Personally, I was hit on the head and pushed to the ground. I told them I was a human rights activist, but they told me rudely, using obscene language, to keep quiet or I’d get another whacking.”

Even now the authorities are trying to convince us that nothing has happened, and that journalists have exaggerated the scale of the protests. That is why it is so important not to let them hush up this outrage.
We demand:

–  An objective investigation of all allegations of torture and extortion in the colony, and an open trial of Federal Penitentiary Service employees implicated in them.
– The punishment of Interior Ministry officers who employed violence against family members and human rights activists gathered outside colony no. 6.

______

 Why the prisoners “rioted”:

Olga Belousova, the sister of one of the inmates, was allowed inside Penal Colony No. 6 along with two other relatives. As a witness, she was able to speak to the press about the situation there.

“There were 60 people in the room; all were standing quietly,” Belousova said. “I told them that we support them and came to make sure that everything is fine, and that we want to make their voices heard outside the colony.”

The complaints, which were mainly communicated by the prisoners, include enormous extortions, inappropriate use of force and numerous other humiliations, Belousova says.

“They don’t touch those who give them money, but against those who can’t they use force to make their relatives pay,” she added.

Former convict Mikhail Ermuraky believes that this system of exploitation was a main reason for the riot.  

His mother said her son was tortured multiple times, sometimes even including with sexual abuse.

“They start beating those who don’t want to pay,” said Ermuraky in a recent interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.

The father of another convict, who spent three months in colony No.6, told Russia’s Dozhd television that he has twice paid off prison staff.

“Every month… If you don’t bring money, there will be problems,” a man who wasn’t named told Dozhd.

Payments in prison are typically euphemized as “voluntary contributions.” Local human rights ombudsman Aleksey Sevastianov has noted complaints from relatives that such “contributions” can sometimes reach up to 200,000 rubles – more than $6,400. For comparison, the average Russian’s annual income is just over $10,000.

For convicts, such sums are impossible to pay – roughly half the prisoners in the colony are not employed. Those who do have jobs in the prison are paid extremely little – less than 100 rubles, or just over $2, per month. Such a wage is not enough even to buy food in a convenience store in the territory, where prices are said to be higher than in the town.

The head of the detention facility met with inmates’ relatives after the uprising, assuring them that he is willing to abolish “the system of contributions.” However, relatives now fear that this change could bring retaliation from the prison staff.

When asked if such a system could be considered as criminal corruption, human rights ombudsman Sevastianov agreed that it is illegal, and should be investigated.

He explained that with the scheme working in the facility, relatives wire money to a bank account given by the colony’s administration. Thus, for example, millions of rubles sent by convicts’ families were spent to build a new church on the territory.

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Filed under activism, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Anti-Flag Release Song in Support of Pussy Riot

anti-flag.com

Dear Friends and Family,

Punk rock is much more than a t-shirt, a sound, a record, or a band, and it knows no borders or nationality. Punk rock is a community and a family that spans around the globe. By now you may have heard that three members of our community, three young women who are members of the band Pussy Riot, are being detained by the Russian authorities for performing their protest song ‘Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin’ in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on 21 February 2012.  The three have been charged with “hooliganism” under Article 213 of the Russian Criminal Code. If found guilty, they could be jailed for up to seven years.

Pussy Riot embody the spirit of punk rock which speaks truth to power that inspired the members of Anti-Flag to start our band and dedicate ourselves to the punk rock community and the planet. The Russian authority’s actions against Pussy Riot are clearly an attack on freedom of thought, opinion and artistic expression which must be protected for any society to be free. Anti-Flag calls for the immediate release of Pussy Riot and all prisoners of conscience. Whether it be trumped up charges levied by police against Occupy protestors, or the trumped up charges levied by the Russian authorities against the members of Pussy Riot, there is no difference in the police-state tactics that those in power will stoop to in order to oppress those who are willing fight for equality and justice for all, not just the wealthy few.

We need everyone’s help in this fight! We are trying to help in our small way by releasing this cover of Pussy Riot’s ‘Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin’ in order to raise awareness.

Here are some ways you can help…

-Spread the word to your friends and family about Pussy Riot’s unjust incarceration.

-DONATE!!! Pussy Riot need money for their legal defense fund! No amount is too small or too large. http://freepussyriot.org/de/node/65

-TAKE ACTION with Amnesty International! Help Amnesty tell the Russian authorities to drop all charges and release Pussy Riot! http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517749

“…The song calls on Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin. It also criticises the dedication and support shown to President-elect Vladimir Putin by some representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. The performance was part of wider protests against Putin and unfair elections in Russia. This, and the anti-clerical, anti-Putin content of the song’s message, appears to have been reflected in the severity of the charges that have been brought against the three women.” -Amnesty International

For more information please visit freepussyriot.org
In Solidarity, Anti-Flag

ANTI-FLAG: PUNK-PRAYER “Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin” (Pussy Riot Cover) by antiflag

Lyrics to Punk-Prayer “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” by PUSSY RIOT
http://freepussyriot.org/content/lyrics-songs-pussy-riot

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Filed under open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Reinstate Owen Holland! (Cambridge University)

REINSTATE OWEN HOLLAND!

22 June 2012

Email: reinstateowenholland@gmail.com
Twitter: @reinstateowen

www.reinstateowenholland.wordpress.com

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY CONTINUES TO “CLAMP DOWN ON PROTEST”

  • Cambridge University upholds decision to punish protesting student
  • University staff and students outraged

The University of Cambridge has been accused of continuing to ‘clamp down on protest’ by students, staff and lecturers today.

The Septemviri, an internal body within the university, has ruled against an appeal to quash a sentence of suspension against Owen Holland, a graduate student punished earlier this year for protesting during a speech given by David Willets, Minister of Universities and Science.

The University decided to reduce the sentence from 7 terms to 1 term, through acknowledged that Owen Holland has already effectively spent most of the year under the weight of the previous ruling.

Asa Odin Ekman, a graduate student, said:
“The university is trying to appear magnanimous by giving a sentence which in any other circumstance would nonetheless appear absurdly draconian. Owen has already suffered financially and personally from this needless punishment, which follows a pattern of clamping down on protests by real courts as well as this sham one.”

Dr Priya Gopal, lecturer in English, said:
“While this is a welcome rejection of the absurd and unjust initial sentence of 2.5 years, it is a great shame that the university did not choose to uphold the right to protest that ought to be a fundamental to its ethos. The time has come to reform its antiquated and byzantine judicial procedures towards greater accountability.”

Caitlin Doherty, a graduating student, added:
“The University has a commitment to protecting the right to protest that must not be infringed in defence of a bogus concept of a government minster’s freedom of speech. Well we’ll be exercising our rights in the Autumn and continuing to protest against this outrageous sentence.”

The Reinstate Owen Holland campaign group say they will be continuing to protest against the ruling in the new academic year.

[1] David Willett’s lecture was due to be held on 11 November 2011, on the theme of ‘The Idea of the University’. It was disrupted by protestors from the Cambridge Defend Education Campaign. For more information on the scheduled lecture, see: http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/1817/

[2] On 22 March 2012 Owen Holland was sentenced to a suspension of seven terms by the University Court of Discipline, a statutory quasi-judicial body of the University of Cambridge. For more information about the University Court of Discipline, see: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/so/2011/chapter02-section20.html#heading1-20.

[3] Owen’s appeal was held by the Septemviri, the University’s ‘court’ of appeal. For more information on the Septemviri, see: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/so/2011/chapter02-section23.html.

[4] Photos of support for Owen are available at: http://reinstateowenholland.wordpress.com/gallery/photo-campaign/

Email: reinstateowenholland@gmail.com

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Filed under activism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, student movements

Putinism Comes to Quebec?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/our-not-so-friendly-northern-neighbor.html

WHEN Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.

For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.

On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.

The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement. For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.

During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities. Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by a third party during a demonstration.

These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their children.

Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.

Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens, wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22, was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations. This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary citizens can also face heavy fines.

Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”

The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to increase the use of force against protesters.

Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63 percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.

Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.

Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political science at the University of Montreal.

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http://montreal.openfile.ca/blog/montreal/2012/explainer-first-24-hours-bill-78

Explainer: The first 24 hours of Bill 78

Posted by Justin Giovannetti on Saturday, May 19, 2012

After a rare nighttime debate at the National Assembly, Bill 78 was approved by a vote of 68-48 on Friday afternoon with the nearly full support of the Liberal caucus and the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec.

Given the tongue-twisting name of, “An act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend,” the bill imposes severe limitations on a Quebecers’ right to hold a spontaneous assembly:

  • Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
  • Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
  • All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
  • Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
  • Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

Opposition from legal scholars
Many of Quebec’s organizations and professional associations showed some concern about the law. Typically a quiet and conservative organization, the Quebec Bar came out swinging against the bill.

“This bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” Bar President Louis Masson told The Globe and Mail.

Speaking to CBC’s The House, former judge John Gomery was critical of the law. While some believe that the law would not stand up to a court hearing, a sunset clause of July 1, 2013 will probably keep it out of the Supreme Court.

“My view is that this legislation is part of the extreme reaction that this debate has provoked. Violent demonstrations provoke violent reactions,” Gomery told CBC host Evan Solomon. “I think it is surely going to be contested before the courts.”

Quebec favours the law
According to a CROP poll commissioned by La Presse, 66 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of the law. Some are discounting the poll because of its small sample of 800 responses. The poll also showed a record low level of Quebecers supporting a tuition freeze: 32 per cent.

CLASSE takes down calendar
So that it is not found guilty of aiding protest that might not be properly planned or executed, the student coalition CLASSE removed a calendar from its website where students added planned activities. A central point for organizing protests, CLASSE was facing a fine of $125,000 for the first offence.

Montreal police lines jammed by people filing “protest reports”
In a bid to undermine Bill 78, hundreds of people called their local Montreal police precincts on Friday, attempting to file plans for “protests” composed of 50 friends going out for an evening. Under the law filing these plans of a dubious value is required.

According to the Montreal police, most of the plans filed were bogus.

It’s all Greek to Margaret
In a column for The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente compared Quebec’s tuition protesters to debt-riddled Greece. While criticizing the province’s “cradle-to-grave” social system, Wente claimed that rioting students are “overwhelmingly middle- to upper-middle class.” Calling herself appalled, Wente concluded by stating that Quebec students would “shut down Alberta” if given the chance. Greek Quebecers were not happy with the comparison.

Following the Russian example?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he is looking to bring forward a new law to crush Russia’s protest movement: $32,000 fines for people engaged in unauthorized protests. The Putin-Charest photomontages are imminent.

____

http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/blog/bernans/10947
Charest’s Draconian Law Sets Stage for Québec Pussy Riot!
Posted on May 18, 2012 by David Bernans

Pussy Riot already likes red
Pussy Riot already likes red

Unable to break the will of students who have been on strike for a record 14 weeks protesting an 82% tuition increase, Charest’s Liberal government has taken a page from Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has tabled Bill 78, the Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend.

Are you planning on a Barbeque or a soccer game in a public park in the province of Québec? Make sure to invite no more than eight people. Once Bill 78 becomes law, the organizer of a gathering of 10 or more people* in a public place will be required to notify the police in writing eight hours in advance of said gathering with a full itinerary of the group’s movements.

Obviously, police are not going to arrest some kids at a soccer game, but what if the kids on one team all have red squares on their uniforms and the other team has the Liberal Party of Québec (PLQ) logo? And what if the PLQ players can pick up the ball with their hands and have referees remove the red square goal keeper whenever she gets in the way? Has this innocent game now become an illegal political gathering, protesting the draconian Bill 78 without a permit?

These are the kind of tactics being used by protestors in Putin’s Russia to avoid similar government restrictions on freedom of assembly. Such tactics illustrate the problem of enforcing bans on unpermitted demonstrations without looking like authoritarian thugs. By targeting the impromptu concert-demos of the anti-authoritarian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, Russian authorities have given the phenomenon international notoriety.

Premier Jean Charest has put forward this legislation ostensibly to calm the fires of revolution that have caught the attention of international media. He wants to rehabilitate Québec as a tranquil tourist destination. But perhaps, instead of legislating an end to a social movement, Charest has just given birth to Québec’s own Pussy Riot!

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

* Bill 78 was amended after this article was written. The relevant section of the legislation now applies to gatherings of 50 or more people.

_____

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/quebec-bill-78-echoes-russia-anti-protest-idea-202141533.html

Quebec Bill 78 echoes Russia’s anti-protest idea: is it Jean or Vladimir Charest?
By Andy Radia | Canada Politics – Sun, 20 May, 2012

It is a little ironic that the Quebec government’s Bill 78 came down on the same day a Russian anti-protest bill was to be introduced.

Friday was supposed to be the first reading of a draconian draft law in Russia that would raise the maximum fines for organizers of unsanctioned protests to $48,000 from $1,600. Participants’ fines would increase to $32,000 from $160.

Quebec’s legislation, which passed Friday, also sets multiple requirements on public demonstrations and threatens stiff penalties to people who disrupt college and university classes.

The bill has been met with a chorus of criticism.

Louis Masson, the head of the Quebec Bar Association, says the Bill “clearly limits” the right to freedom of assembly. Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey told CBC News that Bill 78 is a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason. Pauline Marois, leader of the opposition Parti Québécois, said it was “one of the darkest days of Quebec democracy” and demanded Premier Jean Charest hold elections because of the unpopularity of the law.

And, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. consulate in Montreal has warned visitors and U.S. expatriates to be careful because of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir  Putin will have to wait for his legislation “to cope with an increasingly assertive opposition.” The anti-protest bill in that country was abruptly delayed until next week because of disagreements within the government.

What’s contained in Quebec’s Bill 78? Openfile.ca has published this list explaining the new rules:
-Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
– Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
– All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
– Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of
violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
– Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

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Filed under international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Sign of the Times? (RIA Novosti Guide to Responsible Protesting)

A surprisingly helpful guide (“Responsibilities of participants of mass actions: how to peaceably express your civic stance and not come into conflict with the police”) for Russian anti-election fraud protesters — produced by RIA Novosti, a state-owned news agency! What are things coming to?

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It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word about this case, go to Free Voina.

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http://vpered.org.ru/index.php?id=690&category=2

Free Voina!

At 3:00 p.m. on December 18, a demonstration entitled “Free Voina!” will take place on Pushkinskaya Square in central Moscow.

On November 15, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, activists of the Voina group, were captured in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and thrown into prison. At present, they have been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group” – in this case, that “social group” is the police). The police continue to apply pressure on Vorotnikov and Nikolayev, including physical coercion.

Over the past two years, the actions of the Voina group have sparked a wide variety of public reactions. Some have admired their audacity and wit; others have doubted whether they what to do rightfully belongs to the realm of art; still others have condemned them for disturbing the peace. One thing cannot be denied: Voina has confronted society with the problem of its own powerlessness in the face of state tyranny and done this in a maximally poignant fashion.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev are accused of “criminal mischief,” which consisted in causing minor damage to one of the Russian police’s numerous patrol cars. The reaction on their part was not long in coming: an assault team from Petersburg carried out a genuine special-forces operation in Moscow.

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. It is no accident that such an important role in Russian repressive practice is played by various emergency “anti-extremist” laws and “aggravating circumstances” in ordinary cases of disorderly conduct: the exclusivity of such legal practice manifests our society’s formal inequality and stratification.

Law in this case forfeits all signs of universality and becomes the subjective right of a particular group to commit certain acts. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards.

The legal defense of Voina should thus begin with self-determination on the part of each person: what group, community and class you belong to, and what rights you want to receive as a member of that group. Rich people, bureaucrats, and the police have special rights: they have the means to defend these rights and get the message out to everyone else that their rights must be respected. The activists of Voina, the farmers of Kushchevskaya, and the residents of Khimki are part of the huge majority, a majority deprived of any rights whatsoever, even the most elementary. Each of these rights – the right to strike, the right to a clean environment, the right to assemble freely – has to be fought and won. These rights even include the right to offend the police, if there are grounds for giving such offense: in Russia, there is more than sufficient cause to want to do this.

Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our rights are being fought over. At the end of the day, one of these rights is the right to speak ever more openly and loudly about our rights without fear of punishment. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR rights will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR rights will shrink by the same amount. If this case falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

The case against Voina concerns each and every one of us.

__________

The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1634 (95), Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Banksy, Human Rights Activists Back Voina
By Sergey Chernov, The St. Petersburg Times

Human rights activists have criticized the imprisonment of two members of the radical art group Voina [“War”] as illegal, while British graffiti artist Banksy has joined the international campaign demanding the release of the artists.

Banksy pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of a limited series of his prints to Voina. The 175 prints in the “Choose Your Weapon” series were sold Monday via the web site Picturesonwalls.com, reportedly generating 4.5 million rubles ($147,000) for the artists and their families.

Artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were arrested in Moscow last month and taken to St. Petersburg, where they were placed in a pretrial detention center.

Nikolayev and Vorotnikov reportedly took part in a stunt that involved overturning several police cars at night — some of which had police officers inside — and have been charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility, or motivated by hatred or hostility toward a particular social group. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Called “Palace Revolution,” the stunt was meant to demand, “metaphorically, the reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police arbitrariness,” art critic and philologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, described as Voina’s “ideologist,” told The St. Petersburg Times late last month. Within days, he fled to Tallinn, Estonia for fear of arrest.

The artists’ lawyer, Anastasia Yekimovskaya, said at a press conference Monday that the charges cannot be proven because the police lack credible sources of information, with the charges mainly based on a video that Voina uploaded onto the Internet.

The imprisoned artists, who have been in custody for more than three weeks, are refusing to speak to investigators, citing the constitutional right of suspects not to give evidence against themselves, Yekimovskaya said.

Analysis presented by the Moscow-based watchdog group Sova Center at the press conference argued that the law being used against Nikolayev and Vorotnikov is poorly formulated and being incorrectly applied, a fact that poses a threat to society.

According to Sova, Voina’s members did not commit a crime that could be qualified as criminal mischief or anything for which they could be persecuted under anti-extremist laws. It also argued that the imprisonment of the artists is not proportionate to their danger to society, pointing out that a suspect in the beating of a Cameroon citizen in St. Petersburg was released earlier this year after pledging not to leave the city before the court hearing.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial rights group described Voina’s case as “political.”

“They expressed their protest — whether artistically or not — and they have been accused of committing a crime for this protest,” Kulayeva said. “It’s a political case. If they are sentenced to prison terms, we will all be guilty and pay with not only their freedom, but with ours too.”

Voina also hit the headlines earlier this year when they painted a giant penis on Liteiny bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg back in June.

__________

December 2, 2010
The Art of War
Rose Griffin
Russia Profile
The Arrest of Two St. Petersburg-based Artists Raises Fresh Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Russia

Russian guerilla art group Voina (War) have caused controversy over the last two years with a number of shocking and often grotesque actions aimed at the Russian establishment. But the group suffered a setback this month, when two members were charged over a protest against the police that took place in St. Petersburg in September. Another member of the group is now reportedly hiding in Estonia. With little support from their fellow artists in Russia, does this spell the end for the anarchic collective?

On November 15 Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev, both members of Voina, were arrested in connection with the “Palace Revolution” action staged by the group two months earlier. The project involved turning seven police cars upside down in the center of St. Petersburg as a protest against malpractice in the police force.

On November 26 the Web portal Russian News Service reported that Alexei Plucer-Sarno, one of Voina’s ideologists, had fled Russia for Estonia, quoting Plucer-Sarno as saying that he was under threat of investigation by the authorities. “Yes I’m in Tallinn, practically without documents. Some influential Estonian friends got me across the border,” Plucer-Sarno said.

This is a major blow to the coalition, which was founded in 2007 around a core group of philosophy students from Moscow State University. Their sometimes explicit actions have targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as institutions such as the police and the Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that members of the group were not arrested earlier. Voina’s anti-Medvedev protest “F**k for the heir, Puppy Bear!” took place on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s election and featured couples, including a heavily pregnant woman, having sex publicly in the Timiryazev Biology Museum in Moscow. “In Memory of the Decembrists – A Present to Yuri Luzhkov,” featured a staged hanging of two homosexuals and three central Asian guest workers, attacking the mayor for his homophobic stance and the dangerous living conditions for migrant workers in the capital.

“Palace Revolution” was not the first time the group attacked the police. In their “Cop in a Priest’s Robe” project, Vorotnikov, dressed in a priest’s cassock and a police hat, went into up-market grocery chain Sedmoy Kontinent, helped himself to food and alcohol, and left without paying, thus protesting against the church and police being above the law.

But although the group has built up a strong reputation and some support for exposing flaws in contemporary Russian society, it has received little help from the artistic community in the last two weeks. This is something which another Russian artist, Lena Hades, is familiar with. “It is rare for artists to support each other in such cases, although there are a few exceptions,” Hades said. “Since the arrests, we have seen nothing like the show of support that Oleg Kashin, for example, received from the journalistic community.” She puts this down to competitiveness and a lack of solidarity. “Each artist sees a rival, a competitor for attention, not a fellow artist,” Hades said.

Hades was convicted in summer of inciting hatred with two of her works, “The Chimera of the Mysterious Russian Soul,” which mocked several Russian institutions, and “Our Russia,” which featured an Orthodox prayer alongside obscenities.

There is a degree of solidarity between Hades and Plucer, however, and she said that when she was on trial, Plucer supported her by writing about her case. Hades is hopeful that the group will continue to operate, but stressed that the arrests and Plucer’s exile will take a huge toll. “At the moment, the group is really without a head, maybe they’ll get a new leader. I hope they’ll be able to continue,” she said.

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