Book Burning Goes Digital: Pussy Riot Video Declared 'Extremist' in Russia

Why a Moscow court is ordering web access to the footage be limited

RTR2V85V-615.jpgMembers Pussy Riot stage a performance to support detained opposition activists on a roof near the detention centre in Moscow. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has designated four videos made by the feminist punk protest group Pussy Riot as extremist. The Zamoskvorechye District Court in the Russian capital ruled that access to all websites hosting the videos must be limited. According to the court's decision, websites that do not remove the Pussy Riot videos will face administrative penalties, including fines up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000).

The Democracy ReportAt least one video shows a performance in February at Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral that protested President Vladimir Putin's rule. It led to the arrest of three members of the group. Two of them -- Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova -- are now serving two-year prison sentences for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed last month after a court suspended her sentence on appeal. "Just as in old times, we burned books. Now we are deleting video clips which have undoubted historic significance."

Samutsevich told journalists that she will appeal the court's action. "Of course, I have negative emotions because for me this is a clear sign of censorship of art and the culture of protest, which is very important for any country, especially Russia," she said. "And it is appalling that they are now going to block, as I understand, almost all of Pussy Riot's video clips and photographs."

A spokeswoman for Moscow's Zamoskvorechye District Court, Yevgenia Pazukhina, told journalists that Samutsevich has no right to appeal the court's decision because she did not take part in the hearing. Pazukhina added that the court's decision will come into force in one month unless it is appealed.

Earlier this week, the court rejected Samutsevich's request to legally take part in the hearing.

Oleg Kozyrev, a Moscow-based opposition blogger and media analyst, said that the Pussy Riot videos will likely become harder to find online in Russia. "The power structures will try to ensure that these video clips do not appear on at least the main blog platforms and social networks," Kozyrev said. "In all probability, if they find the clips displayed they will appeal to the owners of the social network. And to be honest, I think that in all probability these social networks will not refuse. The majority of them will meet them in the middle and will close the pages displaying these clips."

Kozyrev says the court's action does not negate the importance of the Pussy Riot videos. "Whatever you think about these videos, they have become a part of the history of this country," Kozyrev said. "Just as in old times, we burned books. Now we are deleting video clips which have undoubted historic significance." Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, welcomed the court's decision, saying the Pussy Riot's videos offended the feelings of all Orthodox Christians.

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