Pussy Riot To Pursue Human Rights Agenda

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Pussy Riot Unveil Plans for Human Rights Organization
by Patrick Reevell
Rollingstone
December 27, 2013

Freed musicians return to Moscow to announce next steps, which do not include touring

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On Friday, Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina held their first public press conference since their release from prison on Monday. They unveiled their plans for a new human rights organization and said they remain committed to bringing down Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“The system ought to be in shape. We’re going to force it to get into it,” Tolokonnikova told hundreds of journalists at the studios of the Russian opposition TV station, TV Rain. “We intend to help with the advancement and reaction to complaints of prisoners about the conditions of their incarceration. We want to provide them with legal aid.”

The two activists flew into Moscow this morning from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, where Tolokonnikova walked free from jail on Monday. This was the first time since they were jailed that the two women have been in the Russian capital.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said their new human rights organization will be named Zone of Law, a play on “the zone” (shorthand for “prison camp” in Russian). The new organization will offer legal aid to prisoners who complain of violence, threats, abuse and overwork. The women hope their high profile will also allow them to draw media attention to abuse in the system. The press conference fleshed out what Alyokhina told Rolling Stone just hours after her release: that the organization would be “a new type” of human rights non-governmental organization. They also distinguished during it that they were speaking as individuals, not as representatives of Pussy Riot.

“We already started to do this [human rights work] in the camp. There we had nothing; the only thing we had was our will,” Tolokonnikova said. “After my hunger strike and letter, the 16-hour slave-working day has become a thing of the past, and they’ve begun to release people on parole. Fear has appeared among the guards at the colony. It’s unbelievably important now to continue this work.”

Alyokhina added, “We really are provocateurs. But there’s no need to say that word like it’s a swear word. Art is always provocation.”

In November, Pussy Riot told Rolling Stone of their plan to found such an organization focusing exclusively on the Mordovia region, where Tolokonnikova was being held. The organization they announced today appears to be considerably more ambitious, covering prisons across the whole of Russia. During the press conference, both brought up individual cases of prisoners they felt needed urgent help, including a woman dying of cirrhosis of the liver in the camp where Alyokhina was held. The two women said that Zone of Law would rely largely on crowdfunding, as well as support from some of Russia’s more prominent opposition figures.

Tolokonnikova said that her time in prison changed her understanding of what her goals were and that it was “absolutely obvious” she would not now participate in the band’s 2011 “punk prayer” against Putin that led to their arrest and imprisonment.

“I was smaller, I was younger and I had other understandings about my goals,” she said. “I don’t think that you have to chain yourself to some moments in the past. I would like to be judged by those things that I’m going to do now.”

Although their tactics have changed, the women’s ultimate goal remains the same: to topple the president’s regime.

“Our attitude to Putin hasn’t changed. As before, we want to do what we said in our last protest for which we were imprisoned \”“ we want to drive him out,” Tolokonnikova said, referring to their “punk prayer.” “Our political ambitions never disappeared, and possibly they’ve even got bigger.”

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