Pussy Riot Goes to Strasbourg

Year by year, it becomes clearer that Russia will be an important participant in global conversations about law and religion. This is true with respect to religious law—the canons of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)—and also with respect to church- state and religious freedom issues.

For European scholars, it will be crucial to understand how the vocal and active presence of the ROC in the courts will influence the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). I have already shown that the ROC was a key player in the Lautsi case on the display of the crucifix in Italian public schools. After the first decision in Lautsi, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the ROC’s Department of External Church Relations, clearly expressed his opinion–on the judgment, the Court, and the need for action by religious groups–in a letter to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone:

“We consider this practice of the European Court of Human Rights to be an attempt to impose radical secularism everywhere despite the national experience of church-state relations. The above mentioned decision is not the only one in the practice of the Court, which has increasingly shown an anti-Christian trend. Taking into account the fact that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have clearly lost touch with legal and historical reality in which most of the Europeans live, while the Court itself has turned into an instrument of promoting an ultra-liberal ideology, we believe it very important that religious communities in Europe should be involved in a discussion concerning its work”.

For these reasons, it will be interesting to see how the ECtHR decides the recently-lodged case of the Pussy Riot punk band (above), some of whose members were arrested after performing a “punk prayer” in one of the most important Russian churches. Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Natalia Tolokonniva were in fact sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. The complaint at the ECtHR, filed one month ago, alleges that the group’s conviction amounts to a violation Convention’s guarantees of  freedom of speech, the right to liberty and security, the prohibition of torture and the right to a fair trial.

If the cases moves forward, it promises to be an important one in many regards: both for the legal arguments and standards that the Court will apply to balance (or not) the different rights at stake, but also for the position religious groups, like the ROC, take in any third party interventions before the Court.

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One response to “Pussy Riot Goes to Strasbourg

  1. Without doubt this would be an interesting case and we all will long keenly its result.

    However, I think that the key of the case is hidden in the charge – “motivated by religious hatred”. I guess that the Court will find that the Russian authorities have failed to give the girls “fair trial” in so far as they neglected the Pussy riot’s version, that the band was motivated by political hatred, not religious.

    So the Court with try to escape the ‘religious trap’ in that case

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