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Pussy Riot Criticise Australian Justice In Sydney Talk

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Members of the Russian activist band and feminist collective Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, have criticised Australia’s justice system and human rights record during a talk at Sydney’s Festival Of Dangerous Ideas over the weekend.

Earlier this week, there were calls for the pair to boycott the festival entirely because of its links to Transfield Services and Australia’s policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers. “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.

As reported by The Guardian, the pair decided to attend the festival anyway, in hopes that their presence would draw the attention of international media to human rights abuses, much like their recent appearance at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Tolokonnikova also drew parallels between hunger strikes by asylum seekers in Australia’s detention centres and the hunger strike she and Alekhina undertook while in a Russian labour camp, calling the strikes a “slow suicide”.

In August 2012, three Pussy riot members, including Tolokonnikova and Alekhina, were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” following a protest in a Russian Orthodox church and were sentenced to two years in prison. They were released in December 2013 under a new amnesty law.

In their Sydney talk, entitled Russia Is A Penal Colony, they warned that Russia’s situation should serve as a warning about what happens “if a society loses its memory or becomes unconscious”. They also spoke about their prisoners’ rights group Zona Prava (Zone of Rights).

“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. They also called on Australia to prevent Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, from attending this year’s November G20 summit in Brisbane. “We think that this person has no place at the G20,” said Alekhina.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were disowned by other Pussy Riot members earlier this year, for allegedly forgetting about the “aspirations and ideals of our group”. When asked about this by panel chair Monica Attard, the pair said Pussy Riot was a “movement” and members could not dictate who can and can’t be in the group.

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

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