As the Deputy is aware, three members of the Russian music band ‘Pussy Riot’ were sentenced to prison terms of two years on 17 August 2012 following the performance of a satirical song in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012. While the sentence of one band member was subsequently suspended on appeal, the court upheld the custodial sentences imposed on the other two members, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The imposition of lengthy prison terms on the two women, both of whom are mothers, is a matter of great regret and deep concern. While their actions may have given rise to offence in some quarters, the sentences appear out of proportion. This is particularly so as Ms Alekhina and Ms Tolokonnikova had spent five months in custody prior to sentencing.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, has urged the Russian authorities to review and reverse the sentences in line with Russia’s international obligations in regard to respect for freedom of expression. I strongly support those views. In recent days, worrying reports have emerged in the media concerning the conditions in which Ms Tolokonnikova is serving her sentence. These reports appear to be based on an open letter in which Ms Tolokonnikova announced that she was going on hunger strike last week in protest at what she alleges is a brutal, inhumane and degrading regime at the prison. While we are not in a position to substantiate the detailed allegations which she has made in her letter, I would urge the authorities to initiate a dialogue with Ms Tolokonnikova or her representatives without delay and to fully investigate the issues which have been raised. I have asked officials in my Department to keep me closely informed on further developments in this case and to examine what actions might be taken together with our EU partners to signal our concerns to the Russian authorities.