Friday, 17 August 2012

Pussy Riot in a British Church

The news that members of  Pussy Riot the Russian Punk Rock band have been jailed for "performing" in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow has been widely criticised but I do feel that the question needs to be asked whether what Pussy Riot did would be considered legal in any country.



They sang and danced in front of the Iconostasis which is one of the holiest parts of an Orthodox Church whilst making the sign of the Cross and prostrating themselves in a parody of prayer.  According to the translation given on the You Tube Video (and I do not speak Russian so I cannot confirm it) the song they sang went as follows

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin! (end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes
All parishioners are crawling and bowing
The ghost of freedom is in heaven
Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains

The head of the KGB is their chief saint
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend the Holy
Women have to give birth and to love

Holy shit, shit, Lord's shit!
Holy shit, shit, Lord's shit!

(Chorus)  St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist
Become a feminist, Become a feminist  (end chorus)

Church praises the rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
In school you are going to meet with a teacher-preacher
Go to class - bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, you better believed in God
Belt of the Virgin is no substitute for mass-meetings
In protest of our Ever-Virgin Mary!

(Chorus)  St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!  (end chorus)

So by any definition the incident involved Pussy Riot shouting obscenities in a Church whilst worshipers were there, disrupting a service, shouting insults about the Orthodox Church and parodying worship.

In Britain that would constitute a criminal offence contrary to 

s2  Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860
Penalty for making a disturbance in churches, chapels, churchyards etc
Any person who shall be guilty of riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England in any cathedral church, parish or district church, or chapel of the Church of England, or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any place of religious worship duly certified under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, 18 & 19 Vict c 81, whether during the celebration of Divine service, or at any other time, or in any churchyard, or burial-ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorised to preach therein, or any clergyman in Holy Orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament or any Divine service, rite, or office in any cathedral church or chapel, churchyard, or burial ground shall on conviction thereof before two justices of the peace, be liable to a penalty of not more than level 1 on the standard scale, or may, if the justices before whom he shall be convicted think fit, instead of being subjected to any pecuniary penalty be committed to prison for any time not exceeding two months.

Under s28 of the Crime and DIsorder Act 1998 a "Religiously Aggravated Offence" is committed when 

 (a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.
 "Religious Group" is defined as
"a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief."


So Pussy Riot could have been convicted in England of a Religiously Aggravated Offence probably either s5 or s4A of the Public Order Act. Section 4A carries a 2 year maximum sentence when it is an aggravated offence and s5 caries a fine 

Intentional harassment, alarm and distress - Public Order Act 1986, s. 4A
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Harassment, alarm and distress - Public Order Act 1986, s. 5
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he–
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

There is also the offence of Aggravated Trespass under s68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which carries a sentence of up to 3 months imprisonment and which says 

Offence of aggravated trespass.
(1)A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—
(a)of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b)of obstructing that activity, or
(c)of disrupting that activity

Since the words "sung" were not threatening the Pussy Riot group could not have been convicted in Britain of the Offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred  but they would still have faced the likelihood of prosecution and possible imprisonment though not for the possible sentence that they received in Russia

Whilst I personally think the sentence was excessive there is one aspect to the incident which has not been commented on in the British media and may explain why Orthodox believers in Russia were quite so outraged.  The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is of special importance.  It is a reconstruction of a Cathedral which was deliberately destroyed in 1931 as part of the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union .  During this persecution groups such as the League of Militant Atheists often desecrated Churches and engaged in parodies of religious ritual whilst singing obscene songs.  

In the West we seem to have almost forgotten Communism and the evils it brought but people in Russia have not.  I notice that in Court one of the Pussy Riot demonstrators wore a T Shirt bearing a clenched fist and the words "No Pasaran" which was a slogan of the Spanish Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War.  It was a bit like appearing in a German Court wearing a T Shirt with a Nazi Slogan.  In those circumstances perhaps it is not surprising if Russians have taken a rather less rosy eyed view of the incident than that of the Western media



 
 

12 comments:

Left-footer said...

Thank you for the explanation of the law.

At least the Russian reponse to this outrage shows some sign of the robustness (and sense of history) lacking in western European democracies.

God bless!

Manko said...

Interesting read. So, let's apply this to Pussy Riot case: they didn't disrupt the service (as there was none at the time), and didn't trespass (as church was open to the public), there were no damages and nobody got hurt; they left when staff chased them out (the performance lasted only 40 seconds!), and they didn't set out to cause religious offense (which they all explained in their statements and apologised if the few church staff present were hurt). You might see it as "prostrating" and "parody", but the Punk Prayer was performed in punk style (which is always irreverent, loud, brash, satirical and honest, however the judge disallowed experts to witness about punk subculture). If you can see past the scary cuss words, you might notice that the lyrics of Punk Prayer is a reminder for the head of church to worship god rather than gold and dictators, and to embrace feminism (equal rights for women). A few expletives aside, the Punk Prayer carries a fine message. You see it as an insult, I see it as a fair comment.
But being offended is a personal matter, and it shouldn't be what sends people to prison in the court of law. Russia, supposedly, has a secular constitution. The freedom of religion and the freedom of expression each put limitations onto another, and the law - not emotions of traumatised church staff - should have the final say. This is what we protest again - the trial had no respect for law. This charge of "religious hatred" was not proved in any reasonable way (I followed the trial closely and there was no actual evidence of any anti-religious sentiment in 5 years of notebooks, disks and other work that was confiscated from these women; some experts also confirmed absence of religious hatred in their performance). The trial was obviously biased and violated legal procedures (defence were denied witnesses, reading of the evidence was very selective, etc), let alone the judge blatantly ignoring any political relevance of this protest, which is just absurd.
You must keep in mind that this showtrial is taking place in the background of a wider crackdown on freedom of assembly and expression in Russia.
Thank you for this information, it further confirms that these women suffered injustice.

Agent Provocateur said...

Thank God not all people in the West are braiwashed - thank you for this post! BTW - did you know the members of Pussy riot were examined by psychologists and they suffer from mental disorders? I know, anyone who had a "privilege" to see their blasphemous act, does not need evidence from a psychologist...and yet this is another fact Western media do not mention. Glory to Holy Rus!

Anonymous said...

I understand that the girls are to appeal their sentence, and even some figures in the Russian Orthodox Church supporting this. That said, I think the diocese was correct to seek a prosecution. Under Protocol-1-Article-1 (peacefull enjoyment of his possessions) Russia has a positive obligation to ensure this right with effective deterrents and procedures. The hatred issue is more complex. Was the location and time chosen to steal value to add to their cause? Was the value religious in nature? The hatred does not have to explicitly mention religion - for instance, if I sold gollybears at a Jam and Preserve competion, or teddy auction thats ok, but if I tried to sell it at Nottinghill Carnival, if i survive, I could be prosecuted for inciting Racial Hatred. The same goes for athiest distributing leaflets in Airport chapels.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see the special pleading here. One can't help but wonder that if the scenario was something other than that of religion the offence to the people concerned would not have been questioned

Tom E

Neil Addison said...

Manko

Whether there was a service on or not is irelevant because those who were using the Church for prayer were disrupted. The Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 specifically refers to
"riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour ..... whether during the celebration of Divine service, or at any other time"

As for the Trespass point the fact that the Church is open would not prevent them being trespassers in England. People have an implied consent to enter Churches to pray or to enter supermarkets to shop but not for other purposes. if people enter premises for purposes outside the implied consent then they can become trespassers.

localghost said...

Oh, and in addition—about No pasaran! slogan.
I didn't do any social study, but I do think you are treating it the wrong way. It was not a slogan of Communist party, and I don't think anyone here thinks of as 'affiliated' with communism. It was a slogan of an anti-fascist, anti-Franco resistance. The fact that it came to Russian from the speech of a Spanish Communist party member doesn't do much difference. Later it was used in the same way—anti-fascist, anti-nazi. And you can be sure that the trauma inflicted to a Russian conscience by fascists is deeper, more explicitly manifested and more widespread that the one done by communism.

So comparing that T-shirt with a Nazi T-shirt in German court (which would be against the law in Germany by itself, by the way) is blatantly unfair at the very least.

Manko said...

In the closing section of the verdict, Judge read “psychiatric-psychological examinations” of Nadia, Masha, and Katya. All three were found to suffer from a “mixed-personality disorder,” a condition that included different combinations of a “proactive approach to life,” “a drive for self-fulfillment,” “stubbornly defending their opinion,” “inflated self-esteem,” “inclination to opposition behavior,” and “propensity for protest reactions.”
Can ambition or standing by your beliefs be seriously considered mental disorder?
Russian authorities have a long tradition of locking up political dissidents in mental institutions (especially prevalent in the Soviet era). It's pretty sick of you to be proud of it and celebrating this practise in this day and age.

Manko said...

PS to my previous reply:
(from The New Yorker):

"These same psychological “abnormalities” were the targets of systematic eradication during the decades of Bolshevik terror and the following period of the Soviet police state: a Soviet man had to be quiescent, unquestioning, and submissive. The Communist state demonstrated (and used) force and dictated the rights and wrongs in ideology, ethics, artistic tastes, and moral values. Anyone showing independence of the mind, initiative, or individual striving, was seen as suspicious and politically unreliable. There were those who did so anyway; as David Remnick wrote recently, the women’s closing statements were part of a grand tradition of Russian dissidence. But over the decades, the overwhelming majority accepted their powerlessness vis-à-vis the state as a fact of life; those defying the oppression and showing any independence were regarded suspicious troublemakers and a threat to everyday life."

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/08/the-pussy-riot-verdict.html#ixzz24NiBcoOb

Lotion said...

'It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society' - Krishnamurti

DC Injury Attorney said...

Thanks for enlightening me about this law, I was not clear about it as its not applicable in U.S.A.

neil craig said...

Almost without exception when our media start "defending human rights" somewhere it is in a country our government would like to bomb.

Is coverage of human rights in Saudi or Libya (now) as great as that in Russia, or Syria? Yet the actual respect for human rights in those allies is not a fraction as high.

Which rather suggests our media is not so much a bulwark of freedom but an abuser of it.