Maria Alyokhina, Successor of the Dissident Tradition

May 28, 2013
Maria Elekhina

[The New Times recounts a court hearing in response to a legal petition for early release by the imprisoned Pussy Riot musician Maria Alyokhina, and her decision to begin a hunger strike—Ed.]

Today at Bereznik City Court, the petition was heard for parole of Maria Alyokhina, defendant in the Pussy Riot case. The convict asked that the hearing take place in her presence or she would begin a hunger strike. Alyokhina was not brought to the court, but was supposed to take part in the session via video camera. Alyokhina refused to take part in the trial and began a hunger strike. After the first day of the parole hearing, musician Paul McCartney published a letter in support of Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

Several days before the hearing, Alyokhina appealed to the chairman of the Bereznik city Court, the Perm Territorial Court, head of the Perm Territory Directorate of the Federal Corrections Service and the head of the Russian Federal Corrections Service. She wrote that if she was not brought to the court to review her petition for an early conditional release, she would declare a hunger strike. Under the Code of Criminal Procedures, if the convict declares a wish to personally attend the hearing, he or she must be brought to court. On the eve of the judicial hearing, a meeting of the administrative commission took place at Perm IK28, where Alyokhina is incarcerated. The labor colony administration rejected the petition to the court for Alyokhina’s early conditional release.

Here is how the hearing was described by Alexander Podrabinek, who is Alyokhina’s public defender:

“The administrative commission met today at the colony where Masha Alyokhina is held to review the parole request. Masha called for all her lawyers to be present at the commission and the cops couldn’t refuse her. We should remember that one of the penalties was cancelled because Masha was not allowed to consult with her lawyer before the punishment was issued.

“The three of us went there – [attorney Oksana] Darova, [attorney Irina] Khrunova and myself. [Pyotr] Verzilov [husband of Pussy Riot member Natalya Tolokonnikova—Ed.] was now allowed in. There were about ten cops sitting there, almost all of them familiar to us from Masha’s trials this year. They presented documents characterizing Masha; we picked on them in that regard, demonstrating their contradictions, insufficiencies and tendentiousness. Masha was also here and took part happily in our collective raid on the labor-camp cops. On the whole, I have never seen such a thing – that defenders would sit at a commission inside a labor camp and push the rights of the convicts! This was the first time for Darova and Khrunova in their practice as well. Of course, the result was predictable – the administration didn’t recommend parole. They complained that Masha was not prepared to reform outside the labor camp. Masha said that there was no reason at all for her to reform because she wasn’t a criminal. But the cops (correct in their own way) said that they do not assess the fairness of a sentence; their job is to fulfill it. There’s a real collision here related to parole releases – under the law, the court has to prove that the further reform of the convict is possible outside the place of incarceration; that is why I am not an advocate of parole releases, because you have to prove the unproveable.

“Masha doesn’t need early release, but for her sentence to be thrown out as unjust. Therefore, I will not represent her interests in court tomorrow, only the attorney Irina Khrunova will be there. But most likely nothing will come of the court, either. Masha is demanding personal participation in the trial, and they are hardly likely to bring her. The court will go all to hell! Tomorrow will be interesting. Especially since there will be picket lines in front of the court room tomorrow.

“Likely this is a coincidence, but it’s funny that civil defense exercises began in Bereznik today. All the sirens have been going off since morning. The hearing is tomorrow.”

And the trial did begin, but Maria was not brought to the hearing. As promised, she began a hunger strike.

“The judge is out of bounds. Alyokhina declared the start of a hunger strike regarding the refusal to take part in the trial via video and rejected the help of all her attorneys and representatives in this procedure. Masha Alyokhina is the successor to the dissident traditions!” Alexander Podrabinek commented from Bereznik City Court.

Attorney Irina Khrunova sat outside in the hall refusing to defend Alyokhina, at her request. The court declared a break until May 23 in order to clarify the situation. The hearing will begin again at 10:00 a.m. (8:00 a.m. Moscow time).