image image

Russia

Pussy Riot band member arrested by Russian police after protest at Federal Security headquarters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 5:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 6:21am

Russian police arrested on Wednesday a member of the punk band and activist group Pussy Riot after she unfurled a protest sign near the headquarters of the FSB security service in Moscow.

Maria Alyokhina posted a photo on her Twitter account of her holding a poster saying “Happy Birthday, executioners” on the steps to the main FSB building, on the day the agency celebrated its centenary.

Russia has an official “day of security service workers” on December 20, and Wednesday also marks 100 years since the establishment of the Cheka secret police, created to stamp out opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution and headed by the notoriously ruthless Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Alyokhina told the Interfax news agency that she had been accused of taking part in an unsanctioned gathering.

Another activist, Olga Borisova, and two photographers were also detained. Alyokhina will remain in custody until the hearing of the case on Thursday.

The two women were apprehended when Alyokhina was trying to tie her poster to the FSB entrance, Polina Nemirovskaya, an opposition activist, said as she headed to the police station carrying food for the protesters.

“Today is day of the chekist,” said Nemirovskaya, who coordinates a legal aid programme at the Open Russia movement, using the informal term describing a security officer.

“The girls decided to time their protest to this day because they work with political prisoners, and frequently people are put in prison because of the security services despite presenting no danger to society,” she said.

Alyokhina and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested in 2012 and imprisoned for nearly two years on charges of hooliganism after a “punk prayer” performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Since then Pussy Riot ceased to exist in its original format as both members became more involved in advocating for prisoners’ rights and taking part in other arts projects.

The role of the Cheka and the KGB – the predecessor of the FSB – along with that of Dzerzhinsky was widely denounced during the 1990s, with a statue of Dzerzhinsky near the FSB headquarters symbolically toppled in 1991.

The Cheka’s brutal actions during the Russian civil war, known as Red Terror, were formally condemned by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

But under Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, the legacy of the Soviet security services is again being shown in a positive light, with FSB director Alexander Bortnikov defending them in an interview published on Wednesday in the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Bortnikov said that criminal cases during the worst purges of the Stalin era, when millions were sent to the camps and hundreds of thousands shot, were justified, arguing that “archive materials show that a great number of cases contain objective information.”