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Amnesty Says Pussy Riot Petitions Trashed By Russian Embassy In Washington

  • Richard Solash

Protesters wearing Pussy Riot's signature balaclavas take part in an Amnesty International flash-mob demonstration in support of the punk group in Edinburgh, Scotland on August 14.

Protesters wearing Pussy Riot's signature balaclavas take part in an Amnesty International flash-mob demonstration in support of the punk group in Edinburgh, Scotland on August 14.

WASHINGTON -- Amnesty International says two boxes of petitions in support of Russia's punk performance-art group Pussy Riot were trashed by an official after a heated interaction at Moscow's Embassy in Washington.

The embassy denies the account, claiming that the boxes were not allowed to remain on its grounds because representatives of the NGO refused to allow them to be screened.

Michelle Ringuette, the chief of campaigns and programs at Amnesty International USA, told RFE/RL she tried to hand over the petitions, which she said were signed by more than 72,000 people from across the United States, during an August 14 meeting at the embassy.

The petitions called for the release of three members of Pussy Riot who were arrested in March on charges of "hooliganism...motivated by religious hatred or hostility." The charges stemmed from an impromptu performance staged by the feminist group against President Vladimir Putin's rule at a Moscow cathedral in February.

"We went in for the meeting and sat down and began having what we hoped would be an open discussion about concerns we have about legislation that restricts the operation of NGOs in Russia, the exorbitant fines that are being put on individuals who are having unsanctioned public meetings, the recent repressive actions taken toward the LGBT community in Russia, and also, of course, the case of Pussy Riot," Ringuette said.

"In going back and forth, the senior counselor became very irate, denying that any of our concerns had any basis."

From there, Ringuette said, the situation escalated.

The Russian official "stood up and very aggressively told us it was time for us to leave, [that] the meeting was over, that he would not accept our petitions, that we could not leave [the boxes] on the grounds. He tried to make us take them. He physically put [a box] in the arms of one of the members of my delegation and wrapped her arms around the box, which cut her finger," she said.

"Then he took the boxes and stormed out of the room and stormed down the walkway of the embassy, down to the sidewalk, and dumped the boxes on the sidewalk."

Ringuette declined to name the Russian official.

A Different Story

The alleged altercation comes just days before an August 17 court hearing in which Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova could face up to seven years in jail. Prosecutors have asked for a three-year sentence.

For supporters -- a group that has expanded to include international celebrities and several politicians -- the women's case has come to symbolize Russia's troubling record on freedom of speech and expression.

Russia's embassy in Washington, meanwhile, told RFE/RL that Amnesty International was propagating "absolutely incorrect information" about what took place.

Maksim Abramov, an embassy spokesman, named the official who participated in the meeting as counselor Sergei Chumaryov and said he "briefly stated his point of view" after hearing Amnesty's concerns:

"The representatives of the embassy were not able to take the petitions, as they hadn't gone through the mandatory security-screening procedure," Abramov said. "And nobody dumped them. The boxes were just left at the embassy entrance after Amnesty representatives refused to take them away."

Abramov also said Amnesty's claim that the embassy refused to forward its concerns to Moscow was incorrect.

Ringuette said her group will continue to advocate on Pussy Riot's behalf. She said Amnesty plans to join in a silent vigil in Washington on the morning of August 17. It will coincide with vigils and protests scheduled in more than two dozen cities worldwide.

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