Pussy Riot: Infamous Russian Band Member Hospitalized After Hunger Strike

Reports have confirmed that Maria Alekhina, a member of the Russian punk-rock collective Pussy Riot, has been hospitalized in relation to her ongoing hunger strike. Convicted in mid-2012 with two other members of the group, Alekhina is currently serving a two-year sentence for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” a charge that comes as a result of a February 2012 protest staged by Alekhina and her bandmates inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Alekhina’s recent hunger strike began six days ago after a judge refused to allow Alekhina to attend her own parole hearing at a courthouse across the street from her prison colony, a refusal she believes to be a violation of her rights. Alekhina is also alleging the institution of a “persecution campaign” by prison officials against her, citing efforts on behalf of prison officials to antagonize her among other inmates and encourage their intimidation of her. Supporters of the band are attributing the prison administration’s treatment of Alekhina to the anti-Putin nature of the 2012 protest.

Though relatively unknown before their arrest, Alekhina and her band mates, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, have received widespread attention from the international community in the aftermath of their demonstration. Prominent musicians such as Paul McCartney, Sting, and Foster the People have spoken out against their prosecution and Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience, launching an effort to persuade Russian officials to free the imprisoned members. Even the White House condemned the Russian government’s treatment of the three women, expressing disappointment over the verdict and “disproportionate sentences.”

Despite this attention, however, feelings towards Pussy Riot within Russia are decidedly less supportive. In stark contrast to Madonna’s performance of “Like A Virgin” with the name of the band stamped on her back, most well-known members of the Russian rock scene have remained silent, refusing to comment on the fate of their fellow musicians. Among the populace, attitudes are less steadfastly neutral with a recent poll done by the Levada Center, a independent Russian polling firm, showing that 51% of those surveyed held a negative view of Pussy Riot’s actions.

However, in spite of largely disapproving of the group’s actions, the trial of Pussy Riot has moved Russian society to a recognition of the biases present within its judicial system. Another Levada Center poll found that one in every two respondents felt the criminal trial of Alekhina and her band mates was unnecessary, indicative of a general feeling that the charges brought against Pussy Riot were founded on moral, rather than legal, grounds.

While the trial of Pussy Riot may not be the great showdown between Western liberalism and conservatism or the challenge to Putin’s authority it is popularly characterized to be, it does mark a significant step for Russian politics. That conversations surrounding feminism, the relationship between the church and state, and the limits of Putin’s authority are taking place in a political climate in which elected officials publicly and unabashedly use anti-gay slurs” and the rise of the working woman is decried by a prominent newspaper is significant. And while the Russian government’s treatment of Maria Alekhina is unlikely to drastically change, the actions of Pussy Riot have at least nudged Russia towards a more liberal future

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Priyanka Menon

Current student at Harvard University with an interest in politics, history, and human rights.

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