Pussy Riot festival goes ahead in defiance of 'official pressure' to cancel it

 

A music festival to support jailed members of the band Pussy Riot has taken place in Russia's second largest city despite what organisers said was official pressure to cancel it.

Olga Kurnosova said city officials had tried to force her to stop Sunday's show in St. Petersburg — President Vladimir Putin's hometown — and firefighters had threatened to close down the Glavklub hall, claiming safety violations ahead of the concert.

About 1,000 people attended the "Free Pussy Riot Fest" headlined by the Russian rock protest bands DDT and Televizor, whose songs have long riled Soviet authorities and Putin's Kremlin.

Last month three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail for a "punk prayer" against Putin in Russia's largest cathedral in a trial that provoked an international outcry.

On Sunday, DDT frontman Yuri Shevchuk compared the spiraling Kremlin crackdown on political protests to Soviet-era repression of dissidents.

"In 1992, we participated in a festival against political repression," he told the audience. "Twenty years have passed, but it seems almost nothing has changed."

Several younger rock bands and rappers voiced their support for Pussy Riot from the stage Sunday, and some spectators were wearing balaclavas — the feminist band's trademark headwear.

Dozens of riot policemen surrounded the festival venue and detained four people afterward for alleged jaywalking, Russian media reported.

Proceeds from the show will be donated to Pussy Riot and other activists in jail under Putin, organizers said.

One such activist is Taisiya Osipova, who was sentenced to eight years in prison after supporters say police planted heroin in her home for refusing to testify against her husband, a senior opposition figure.

More than 100 Russian intellectuals, including rock musicians, writers and film stars, signed an open letter to the Kremlin in July saying the Pussy Riot trial would divide Russia. But other Russian celebrities, including pop stars often seen on Kremlin-controlled television networks, have condemned the band's performance as disrespectful to Russia's dominant Orthodox Church.

Pussy Riot grew from a controversial art-protest group based in St. Petersburg. Among the group's most noted acts was the drawing of an enormous phallus on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg opposite the headquarters of the FSB, or Federal Security Service, the main KGB-successor agency.

Putin, a former KGB spy and FSB head, has compared Pussy Riot's stunt to a "witches' Sabbath."

In a video made public last week, the members of Pussy Riot who have remained free said they were "going on with their musical fight" and burned a portrait of Putin.

AP

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