A Russian court's decision to uphold a ban on 'extremist' videos of Pussy Riot's protest performance in a Moscow cathedral last year, highlights the escalating clampdown on freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said.
The Moscow City Court on Wednesday rejected the appeal by band member Ekaterina Samutsevich and upheld the ruling of a lower court in November, banning the videos under vaguely defined counter-extremist legislation.
"The increasing use of loosely-worded counter-extremist laws to crack down on dissent shows the Russian authorities' absolute lack of respect for the right to freedom of expression as one of the foundations of a democratic society," said David Diaz-Jogeix, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.
"The ban on Pussy Riot's videos must be lifted and all such attacks on the internationally recognized right to freedom of expression must be stopped along with the narrow application of counter-extremist legislation."
Maria Alekhina together with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich, three of the members of the all-female group Pussy Riot, were charged with “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred” after they sang a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012.
All three were subsequently sentenced to two years imprisonment in a penal colony but later Ekaterina Samutsevich was given a suspended sentence on appeal.
Amnesty International has expressed concern at the court's judgment that the videos contained "images and expressions that were aiming at inciting hatred or enmity and humiliation of persons based on their religion and belonging to social institutions."
The organization believes that there are no indications of violence or calls for violence in the videos.
The members of Pussy Riot insist that their actions, including the performance at the Church of Jesus the Saviour, were not intended to incite hatred, whether of religion, or of those belonging to certain social groups or other minorities.
The court judgment seems to go against a statement by the Russian Supreme Court in June 2011 that the criticism of public officials and professional politicians, their actions and beliefs in itself should not be regarded as actions aimed at humiliating or degrading a person or a group, since boundaries for criticism of such persons are wider than those of private individuals.