Pussy Riot members liken Australian asylum detention to Russian justice

Scared Cat

Two members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot have drawn parallels between Russia’s inhumane treatment of prisoners and Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina opened their panel discussion at Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas by addressing a proposal made by Australian activists that the pair boycott the festival.

“We were surprised by the problems here, such as detention camps, which are similar to what is happening in Russia,” Tolokonnikova told the audience at the Sydney Opera House.

The pair met activists on Friday night to discuss the campaign, which highlights links between the festival co-organisers St James Ethics Centre and the government’s asylum seeker strategy, Operation Sovereign Borders.

In explaining their decision to appear at the festival, they referred to their recent action at the Sochi winter Olympics, in which they sought to use the event to bring international attention to the abuse of human rights in Russia, rather than calling for a boycott.

Tolokonnikova drew parallels between hunger strikes by asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore processing centres and the hunger strike she and Alekhina undertook while interned in a Russian labour camp. She described the horror of a hunger strike, calling it a “slow suicide”.

Both women were released from prison in December 2013 after serving 21 months for “hooliganism”, related to a political performance carried out in Moscow’s main cathedral.

In a panel discussion at the festival titled Russia is a Penal Colony, the pair put forward a strongly worded thesis detailing the lack of democracy in their home country. “There’s a prison-like attitude throughout the country. People don’t feel that they have power, that they can elect their own government or participate in the life of their region or city,” Alekhina said.

The activist said that what was happening in Russia should stand as a warning to all countries, “if a society loses its memory or becomes unconscious”.

The pair identified a long list of human rights abuses and injustices in Russia, including domestic violence, the living conditions of prisons and the lack of an independent and free press.

When the panel chairwoman, Monica Attard, asked if the pair were still members of Pussy Riot, in reference to reports they had been ejected from the group, the two reacted with a mixture of irritation and amusement. They said Pussy Riot was a “movement”, and that if members dictated who could and could not be in the group it would simply become another totalitarian organisation.

“Anyone can be a member of Pussy Riot, even you can become one,” they told Attard.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Monica Tan, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th August 2014 09.18 Europe/London

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