activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: pussy riot

european court condemns russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court

Today a European court condemned Russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court as “degrading treatment” and “an affront to human dignity.” The court ordered Russia to pay damages to the two plaintiffs in the case. According to an Associated Press article,

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 16,000 euros total to plaintiffs Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Sladnyev. … The ruling could prompt others who have been held in Russian courtroom cages to file similar lawsuits. … Among other defendants who have been held in metal cages are Greenpeace activists, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and the members of punk group Pussy Riot.

After members of Pussy Riot were held in metal cages in court, two of them were transferred to penal colonies that did not differ significantly from the gulags of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published an open letter describing how prisoners were routinely overworked and kept in inhumane conditions. Prison officials subsequently announced that they would increase prisoners’ wages and decrease working hours.

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year-end wrap-up: updates on 2013 posts

Natan Blanc: After petitions and demonstrations, Natan Blanc was released in June, after spending six months in jail for refusing to be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

Food Not Bombs: Although state health officials in New Mexico threatened in June to seek a court order to stop Food Not Bombs from serving free meals without a permit, Keith McHenry reports that “the state never returned and the meals continue without incident.”

Uriel Alberto: After beginning a hunger strike in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charlotte on July 4, to protest his deportation, Uriel Alberto was approved within two weeks for a one-year stay of removal.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Following legislators’ announcement that they would hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that led to another prisoner hunger strike in July, hunger strikers suspended the strike in September, 60 days after it began.

Washington Ballot Initiative: The GE labeling initiative in Washington, which would have required retail food products and seed stocks that had been genetically engineered to be labeled, was defeated by a small margin in November. Corporations spent $22 million, more than in any prior campaign in the state’s history, to defeat the initiative. Monsanto was the largest single contributor. According to a Grist blog post by Nathanael Johnson, the money made a difference, just like it did in a similar attempt to pass a labeling bill in California last year:

In each case the labeling bills started out with big leads. In each case those leads shrank as the food industry and agribusiness paid for massive amounts of advertising. The moral of the story seems to be that money really can change the outcome of elections.

Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff: On November 6, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff had their second pretrial conference. Lang accepted a plea deal and was released. Olliff attempted to accept a plea deal, but the judge rejected it; so he remains in Woodford County Jail. He was in court again today in front of a different judge.

Jeremy Hammond: On November 15, anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In response to the sentence, WikiLeaks released all of the remaining Stratfor files.

Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett: At a court hearing on December 9, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reduced the charges against Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett, dropping the more serious charges and reducing the remaining offenses to misdemeanor criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and unlawful assembly.

Kimberly Rivera: On December 12, Iraq war resister Kimberly Rivera was released early for good behavior and performing extra work. She had been scheduled for release in early January 2014.

Jerry Koch: On December 20, attorneys for Jerry Koch filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge John Keenan to release the 24-year-old philosophy student, because Koch has shown he has no intention of cooperating with the grand jury to which he’s been subpoenaed.

Pussy Riot: On December 23, the two women from Pussy Riot nearing the end of their two-year prison terms were released under a new amnesty law. The law was also expected to bring about the release of many people arrested after an anti-government demonstration in May, and close the cases of the 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists arrested in the Arctic Sea in September while occupying an oil rig to call attention to the threat of oil drilling and climate change. According to a December 19 New York Times editorial,

In pardoning these prisoners, Mr. Putin gave no indication that they may have been wrongfully tried and imprisoned, nor that more people will not be treated similarly in the future.

pussy riot member announces hunger strike, as guantánamo hunger strike continues

After she wasn’t allowed to attend her parole hearing today, Maria Alyokhina of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot announced that she would begin a hunger strike. Alyokhina’s fellow band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was denied parole last month. Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova, and a third band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested in March 2012, charged with hooliganism, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison; but Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended.

A more desperate hunger strike, at Guantánamo Bay, reached its 100th day on Friday. Approximately 102 of the 166 inmates have joined the hunger strike. On April 26, the American Medical Association reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners, but roughly 30 prisoners are apparently being force-fed regardless. According to Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who has been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and 4 months but has never been charged with any crime, much less taken to trial,

I will not eat until they restore my dignity. … Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2012 posts

NDAA: On January 13, a group of journalists and activists sued President Obama regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on December 31, 2011. Four months later, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminarily injunction barring enforcement of the NDAA section that allows indefinite detention of anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Another four months passed before Judge Forrest granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that section; but the U.S. government appealed, and in October the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion for a stay of Forrest’s injunction pending a decision on the government’s appeal. Meanwhile, the NDAA of 2013 could further expand the government’s power to hold people in military detention indefinitely.

RNC: The 2012 Republican National Convention protests were surprisingly calm. According to an August 31 New York Times article, no one broke windows, no tear gas filled the air, and only two people were arrested:

The lack of disturbances stood in stark contrast to the last three Republican conventions, when street battles between the police and protesters resulted in numerous arrests and prompted a flurry of court fights about police actions.

The number of protesters at this year’s RNC was smaller than expected due in part to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that caused Republican officials to cancel most proceedings scheduled for the first day of the convention.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: California Governor Jerry Brown displayed a lack of empathy predictable only among politicians by vetoing a bill of rights for domestic workers on September 30. Michelle Chen, a contributing editor at In These Times, describes what exactly Brown axed:

The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.

Tim DeChristopher: After serving 15 months in prison, Utah climate activist Tim DeChristopher was admitted to a halfway house in Salt Lake City at the end of October. The local First Unitarian Church offered him a job with its social justice ministry. Yet a Bureau of Prisons official said he couldn’t work at the church because the job involved social justice, which was related to DeChristopher’s crime; so he accepted a job at a bookstore instead.

Pussy Riot: Two of the three infamous members of the punk collective Pussy Riot are now serving the rest of their two-year sentences at some of the harshest women’s penal colonies in Russia. (An appeals court released the third woman on bail in October.) They were transported there around October 23. According to an October 29 New York Times post by Masha Gessen, discussing several recent incidents of political repression in Russia,

Anyone can be arrested for legal, peaceful protest — and any one of those arrested can be chosen, at random, to spend days, months or years in prison.

One month later, on November 29, a Moscow court ruled that videos of Pussy Riot performances fell under a law meant to control hate speech. The New York Times reported the following:

The court called for limiting public access to Web sites and blogs displaying the videos. But the ruling is unlikely to cut off access to them, since it applies only to servers in Russia. … Thursday’s ruling cited “psycho-linguistic research” proving that the videos “humiliate various social groups based on their religious beliefs” and contain “hidden calls to rebellion and nonsubmission to authority.”

Jeremy Hammond: After anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was put in solitary confinement for five days around the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska denied him bail. He has been incarcerated for more than nine months. A release from Anonymous subsequently reported that Judge Preska is married to a client of Stratfor, the very intelligence contractor whose servers Hammond allegedly gained access to, costing the company millions and focusing “worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence,” according to a November 2012 Rolling Stone article. Hammond’s attorneys are trying to get Preska removed as the judge in his case, because of her apparent bias.

three protesters challenge constitutionality of new york’s anti-mask law

On August 17, the day Judge Marina Syrova issued her verdict in the Pussy Riot case, Rebekah Schiller, Rachael Weldon, and Esther Robinson protested with approximately 25 others in front of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As brightly colored balaclavas are the defining symbol of Pussy Riot, Schiller, Weldon, and Robinson wore such masks during their protest. They were arrested for violating New York’s 150-year-old anti-mask law, which makes it illegal for three or more people wearing masks to gather in public unless it’s “in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment” that complies with any permit regulations. (The law has its origins in a law passed in 1845 to quell an anti-rent insurrection by farmers in the Hudson Valley.)

As of Wednesday, the protesters are challenging the constitutionality of that law. The Second Circuit decided in 2004 that a mask worn by white supremacists did not merit First Amendment protection, because their robes and hoods were sufficient to convey their message. Yet a law may be constitutional as applied to one set of facts but unconstitutional as applied to another. Here, according to a New York Times post,

At the heart of their defense is the contention that the masks were used to express a message that could be effectively conveyed only by wearing that specific type of mask.

three members of russian punk collective potentially face years in prison for anti-putin performance in a moscow cathedral

After five months of incarceration since their arrests in March, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot will learn their fate next week when Judge Marina Syrova issues her verdict on August 17. The women were charged with hooliganism, which is essentially defined as “disrespect for society,” for lip-syncing to an anti-Putin song in a church for 40 seconds. In addition to being blatant political repression, the charges highlight too-often unseen female defendants in criminal legal systems around the world:

Prison and police accountability activists have generally organized around and conceptualized men of color as the primary victims of state violence. Women prisoners and victims of police brutality have been made invisible by a focus on the war on our brothers and sons. It has failed to consider how women are affected as severely by state violence as men.

This passage is excerpted from a 2001 statement by Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence on gender violence and the prison industrial complex.