Released Pussy Riot Member: 'Our Fight Will Continue'

A Moscow appeals court unexpectedly released Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich from prison last week. After she was freed, SPIEGEL spoke to her about the conditions of her imprisonment, President Vladimir Putin's influence over the judiciary and what comes next for the protest punk band.

Last week Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich was unexpectedly released from prison early. Zoom
AP

Last week Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich was unexpectedly released from prison early.

The verdict was unexpected. Last week, a Moscow appeals court upheld the two-year prison sentences for two members of Pussy Riot, the punk band whose members were arrested following an impromptu punk performance in the Russian capital's main cathedral in protest against President Vladimir Putin. A third band member, however, was released. The court ruled that Yekaterina Samutsevich, because she was stopped by security guards before she could take part in the protest, should be let go.

The protest, the trial and the appeal were all followed closely by the international media, with many Western observers criticizing the severity of the punishment handed down. SPIEGEL spoke with Samutsevich soon after her release.


SPIEGEL: Ms. Samutsevich, what was the first thing that you did when you were released from prison?

Samutsevich: I fled the many journalists to my relatives who embraced me. I ate chicken with potatoes in peace and quiet.

SPIEGEL: How were your prison conditions?

Samutsevich: I can't complain. The food, mostly soup and porridge, tasted fine. We could shower once a week. I shared a cell with four other women, but unfortunately not with my other Pussy Riot friends, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. I missed talking with them and being constantly monitored got on my nerves. Once a priest came by and blessed us all with holy water, even though I didn't want it.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that your judges were impartial?

Samutsevich: Not at all. It was political trial ordered by authorities. The tight connection between the trial and the apparatus of President Vladimir Putin was obvious. Just recently, he said the two year sentence that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova must still serve was a reasonable punishment. The judge claimed not to know anything about that. I don't believe him at all. Of course he knew from colleagues or from the newspaper what Putin wanted.

SPIEGEL: You were found guilty of protesting in a church. Was that a mistake?

Samutsevich: We knowingly chose to protest in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, the most important church in the country, to denounce the connection between the church and Putin.

SPIEGEL: Do you not see how the faithful could view Pussy Riot's performance near the altar as offensive?

Samutsevich: Yes, and for that we apologize. We did not, however, commit a crime.

SPIEGEL: In September, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev called for your early release. Are you grateful to him?

Samutsevich: I think that he and Putin are in on it together. One is playing the good cop and the other the bad cop.

SPIEGEL: In the end, hasn't your stunt helped Putin? The opposition is divided and the majority of Russians are against Pussy Riot.

Samutsevich: On the contrary, our performance was a success. We triggered a discussion in society about the connection between church and state as well as our justice system. Putin is the leader, the icon and the guarantor of an authoritarian system that crushes Kremlin critics along with the help of the secret police and ever changing methods and laws.

SPIEGEL: Your sentence has now been suspended. Are you planning on taking part in further protests and risk being imprisoned again?

Samutsevich: I continue to believe that I and my friends are not guilty. Since our activities in February, the situation in Russia has worsened. There are still many political prisoners in addition to us. Pussy Riot's fight will therefore continue. All this talk of the group splitting up is nonsense. On the contrary, new women have joined us. We are now about 20 members. Because we appear in masks, no one will know who we are.

SPIEGEL: Are you going to take up offers to do an international tour?

Samutsevich: We are a Russian group and we want to change the situation in Russia. We criticize our own government and it would be strange if we did that from abroad. We don't need performances in the West to put Putin's regime under pressure. The punishments against us have shown us that we succeeded.

SPIEGEL: You could earn a lot of money with concerts in Berlin, London or New York.

Samutsevich: I don't care about that. Pussy Riot is against the cult of consumerism and the commercialization of art. Our performances were always open for everyone and anyone can see our video clips for free on the Internet.

SPIEGEL: Some Russians have threatened violence against Pussy Riot. Are you worried?

Samutsevich: No. I ride the metro as I always have.

SPIEGEL: Why did you become a member of Pussy Riot?

Samutsevich: I am a feminist and an advocate for women's right to self-determination. I want a society in which women can voice their political views. We have shown that girls like us can perform courageous acts. By doing so, we are breaking up the prevailing image of women in Russia. We are not the weak sex. We don't always just sit at home, cook and take care of the kids.

Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp

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