Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock band three of whose members are being prosecuted by the Russian authorities for singing an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral, have told the Observer they refused to be intimidated by the government’s “brutality and cruelness” because they “had done nothing wrong”.
Giving their first video interview to the western media, three other members of the band, who have been in hiding since the arrests, said that, while it was “scary” knowing that the authorities could come after them too, they had also shown that “Putin is scared of us” and is “afraid of people”.
The group members, who go by the nicknames Sparrow, Squirrel and Balaclava, the youngest of whom is 20, were filmed by the Observer dressed in the balaclavas and colourful dresses that have become a potent symbol of the mass anti-government protests that rocked Russia this spring.
The imprisonment of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, has gripped Russia, and the trial which starts on Monday and will be livestreamed on the internet – the first since Khodorkovsky’s – is being seen as one of the biggest tests of Putin’s career.
Although the mass demonstrations of the winter and spring have died down, more are scheduled for September when Russians return from holiday, and it’s thought that the outcome of the Pussy Riot trial could have a pivotal effect on what happens next.
The women, arrested for their performance of a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, face up to seven years’ imprisonment and have been declared “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International. They have been charged with “hooliganism” in what is widely seen as a government-ordered crackdown on freedom of expression. “It’s not illegal singing and saying what you think,” said Squirrel.
Sparrow, 25, said that masking their faces and appearing anonymous meant that “everybody can be Pussy Riot”. And even if three of them were imprisoned, more Pussy Rioters would rise in their place.
It was a moment in history, she added, when a “Russian superhero” was needed and wearing the balaclavas and outfits felt like “having a second life. It’s like being Spider-Man or Catwoman… When I’m in a mask I feel a little bit like a superhero. I feel more power. I feel really brave. I believe that I can do everything and can change the situation.”
They do not know if the authorities know who they are. “It’s a bit scary but we’re sure what we are doing is right,” Squirrel said. “When you’re doing the right thing you’re not scared. Because it’s horrible what’s happened to the girls.”
Nikolai Polozov, one of the imprisoned women’s lawyers, said there had been a blatant disregard for due process and that “several key events point to the fact that the Kremlin is involved”. Blanket coverage on federal TV channels that has portrayed the women as Satanists and foreign agitators could only be ordered by “one person, or people close to him”.
Persecution of the three arrested women would not stop them, they insisted. “You know to stop doing this means to be afraid of something. We just don’t want to give up. It’s really important to continue.”