The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia

Something is Wrong with Pussy Riot’s Sentence According to the Supreme Court

This week the Russian Supreme Court declared that the prison sentence given to Pussy Riot members was unlawful. The announcement came one day after Russian state news outlets carried a “leaked” report that the punk rockers were named in a draft amnesty bill. This led to many to think that Pussy Riot might have several weeks or months carved off their sentence, and the band members would be released, likely sometime before the Sochi Olympics.

However, it’s simply not clear what will happen next to the punk rockers. While even the Russian press seems to be exaggerating the importance of this decision, it is also important to remember that the Russian Supreme Court is not analogous to the U.S. one (it is much weaker) and this decision throws the sentence back to lower courts for review.

This translation is from the liberal outlet Slon. — Ed.


The Russian Supreme Court has discovered violations of the law in the sentence in the case of the members of the punk group Pussy Riot, Interfax reports. Thus, the motives for the crime were not indicated, and mitigating circumstances were not taken into account, and the question of delay of the punishment was not reviewed. [The Supreme Court statement on its website says:]

Nadezhda Tolokonnikov and Marya Alekhina were convicted for commission of hooliganism by a group of persons by prior conspiracy, that is gross violation of public order, expression of obvious disrespect for society, for motives of religious hatred and enmity, and also for the motive of hatred regarding a social group.

However, in the explication of the factual circumstances of the commission of this crime in the descriptive part of the sentence concerning the motivation by the convicts, the court indicated only the presence in their actions of the motive of religious hatred and enmity,” the Supreme Court ruling states in the section on motivation.

The Khamovnichesky District Court must review the question of the delay of the punishment until the children of the group members reach the age of 14 (under Art. 82 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code)

The main question is: what will happen next and will the case move off dead center?


With only three months remaining until the end of the sentences in any event, it is not clear how this partial ruling regarding unlawfulness of some aspects of the conviction will be implemented. In Russia’s authoritarian civil law system, the Supreme Court is weak, and the case in fact thus still awaits a review at the court where the sentence was issued; the Supreme Court merely issued an opinion that the sentence was unlawful on certain points and now it is up to the city court to respond.

Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian lawyer based in Kazan, commented on Twitter after reading the document provided on the Russian Supreme Court site. A translation of his tweets follows. — The Interpreter


The Supreme Court has said the following: they had the motive of religious hatred, but the motive of hatred to a social group was not proven.

The court did not assess the possibility of delaying the sentence, and also did not take into account the absence of aggravating circumstances and the presence of many mitigating circumstances.

Thirdly, the court “stole” a day of prison from Nadya, by inaccurately counting the serving of the term from March 4th. Nadya was detained on March 3rd.

This means on the whole that the Supreme Court has agreed with the conviction, but proposes to the Moscow City Court to remove one indication of hatred and lessen the punishment.

The next step will be a hearing at the Presidium of the Moscow City Court. Here it is. There are 8 judges in it, headed by Olga Yegorova [who has been proposed for inclusion in the Magnitsky List].

The defense attorneys of the convicts will definitely take place in the hearing, the victims and their representatives may take part, and of course the prosecutor.

The Moscow City Court may lower the punishment by one or two months regardless of whether they are released by that time under the amnesty or not.

The position of the women and their defense counsel is unchanged – there is no evidence of a crime, only exoneration will satisfy them. The opinion of the Supreme Court on the evidence for a crime is important for the European Court of Human Rights.