Garry Kasparov Was Arrested Outside Of Pussy Riot Courthouse

from the kings-and-pawns dept

We had just covered the shameful Russian court ruling that sentenced members of the punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison over their political music/speech at an Orthodox church. Aside from being a simply horrific example of the Russian government coming down hard against free political speech, this move was also curious in that it essentially took a moderately-known punk band and turned them into The West's next great martyrs. Several high profile musical artists have already kept the story going, including Madonna, Bjork, and Paul McCartney, in the tradition of The Streisand Effect.

And now, as is being reported in several places, we learn that famed chess champion Garry Kasparov's name can be added to the list of high-profile figures involved. He details in The Wall Street Journal his own arrest outside of the courthouse the day of Pussy Riot's sentencing. It should be noted that Kasparov is the leader of the United Civil Front in Russia and Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation here in The States, and that he's been a critic of Vladimir Putin in the past, but none of that appears to excuse his arrest.
The crowds outside the court building made entry nearly impossible, so I stood in a doorway and took questions from journalists. Suddenly, I was dragged away by a group of police—in fact carried away with one policeman on each arm and leg.

The men refused to tell me why I was being arrested and shoved me into a police van. When I got up to again ask why I had been detained, things turned violent. I was restrained, choked and struck several times by a group of officers before being driven to the police station with dozens of other protesters. After several hours I was released, but not before they told me I was being criminally investigated for assaulting a police officer who claimed I had bitten him.
Taking Kasparov at his word, it would appear as though the Russian government decided to silence more political speech against the silencing of political speech. This is something that can easily spiral out of control, because, while reports are that Russia in general isn't particularly supportive of what Pussy Riot did, they are far more vehemently against how the Russian government responded. As The Economist notes, recent polling shows the Russian people's compartmentalized views:
Although recent polling by the Levada Centre shows that many question the court’s objectivity and see the hand of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin in the prosecution, fewer are ready to support Pussy Riot: 51% held negative or hostile views toward the group’s actions, another 20% were neutral or indifferent.
Negative views of Pussy Riot or not, when you begin adding more arrests against speech, particularly of high profile people like Garry Kasparov, the Russian government risks losing the advantage of that ambivalence entirely and becoming the chief bad guy in this entire story (if they aren't already). Unfortunately, from Kasparov's viewpoint inside of Russia, not enough has been done diplomatically from The West as of yet.
Such a brazen step should raise alarms, but the leaders of the Free World are clearly capable of sleeping through any wake-up call. A spokesman for the Obama administration called the sentence "disproportionate," as if the length of the prison term were the only problem with open repression of political speech.
If officials at the U.S. State Department are as "seriously concerned" about free speech in Russia as they say, I suggest they drop their opposition to the Magnitsky Act pending in the Senate. That legislation would bring financial and travel sanctions against the functionaries who enact the Kremlin's agenda of repression. Hit them where it hurts and expose them as the thugs that they are. Those who wish to help should pressure their representatives to pass such measures. If you live in a democracy you have a voice. Do not waste it.
Mike has written in reference to the Magnitsky Act before, but I think it goes without saying that if America wants to be a nation that stands on Free Speech principles, it needs to do so consistently, regardless of any touchy diplomatic issues that may be present. There is simply no excuse for the United States not to come out strongly against what has happened to Pussy Riot and Kasparov. As a country founded on Free Speech principles, we are obligated to uphold those values across diplomatic lines.

Filed Under: free speech, garry kasparov, pussy riot, russia


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2012 @ 6:07am

    Re: A thought experiment

    Trespass ticket.

    If anyone got hurt, there'd be additional charges.

    The public would be outraged, of course, that such a travesty could be allowed. Obama would be blamed since he supports same-sex unions.

    And Congress would have another excuse to keep the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, warrantless wiretapping, etc etc, yada, yada, yada...going.

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