Wednesday, September 17, 2014


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Russia's Pussy Riot Wins 'LennonOno Peace Grant'

Pyotr Verzilov, husband of convicted Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, holds his daughter Gera as he accepts the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace from Yoko Ono in New York on September 21.
Pyotr Verzilov, husband of convicted Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, holds his daughter Gera as he accepts the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace from Yoko Ono in New York on September 21.
By Courtney Brooks
The artist and philanthropist Yoko Ono has awarded the imprisoned Russian musicians from Pussy Riot the "LennonOno Grant For Peace" in New York City.

The three were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in a labor camp for performing a song that mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin inside Moscow's main cathedral.

Ono, a peace activist and the wife of the late Beatles member John Lennon, said the band's actions had made all women proud.

"I thank Pussy Riot for standing firmly in their belief of freedom of expression and making all women of the world proud to be women and I agree," Ono said.

Imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, and daughter, Gera, attended the ceremony and jointly accepted the award on the group's behalf.

Ono created the LennonOno award in 2002 to honor and continue the philanthropic work done by her late husband. The grant, which is reportedly $50,000, is awarded every two years to multiple recipients.

This year it was also awarded to Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist who was crushed to death by a bulldozer while protesting Israeli settlement building in Palestine in 2003; author and activist John Perkins, who wrote "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"; and the writer Christopher Hitchens, who died last year.

A peace activist who was not identified for what event organizers said were "logistical reasons" was also among the awardees.

'Strong Women'

Verzilov told reporters after the ceremony that his wife and two imprisoned bandmates, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were "powerful" women.

"During the past six months, the girls have obviously all turned themselves into role models for millions of people inside Russia and abroad just because, well, it's incredible to see them act so powerfully, so strongly inside the brutal circumstances," Verzilov said.

"So they're keeping on their good faith -- the whole world was amazed that, sitting in a Russian court, having the threat of a jail sentence of up to seven years in front of you, you're able to smile, to give these intellectual comments, to write and give [a] full-bodied political speech," he continued.

"They're continuing like that -- they're very, very strong women and nothing seems to break their spirits."

The imprisonment of the musicians sparked worldwide protests and condemnation from political leaders and top musicians, including Sting, Madonna, and Paul McCartney.

Verzilov told reporters that he before he came to New York, he was in Washington, D.C., meeting members of Congress to discuss the possibility of pressuring Putin to release the women.

The women told the French magazine "Elle" that they did not regret their protest because it revealed the "true face" of Putin's regime.

They also said they were certain their October 1 appeal bid will fail.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International, is collaborating with Ono to win the women's freedom.

"At its core this case is about three young women who are in jail for the crime of singing a song. For challenging their government. For provoking, but for doing so peacefully," Nossel said.

"And it's a vivid reminder of the price that courageous people will pay to assert their human rights."

 

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