Court in Russia bans video clips of Pussy Riot online

Pussy Riot's Yekaterina Samutsevich: "This is a clear case of censorship"

A Moscow court has ruled that websites must remove video clips of the Pussy Riot female punk band, two of whose members are in jail.

The clips include a crude anti-Kremlin song which they performed in Moscow's main cathedral in February, for which they were convicted.

The "punk prayer" has been viewed nearly 2.4m times on YouTube.

In its ruling, the court called the clips "extremist". Websites that fail to remove the clips may be blocked.

There were widespread international protests over the Pussy Riot trial.

The video clip ban will only apply once the court ruling takes effect. It was not immediately clear when this would happen.

Nor was it clear if the court was banning all of the group's clips, which include a song mocking Russian leader Vladimir Putin that was performed on Red Square.

The court listed websites carrying the clips and said they should be blocked, Russian media report.

A representative of Google's Russian office said YouTube would not take any decision regarding the clips until it had received official documents, Russia's Interfax news agency reports.

Appeal doubts

The court said it had based its ruling on conclusions by a panel of experts who studied the footage, showing band members in colourful dresses, tights and ski masks dancing in front of the altar of Christ The Saviour Cathedral.

Judge Marina Musimovich said the video had "elements of extremism".

Start Quote

The judge put the group's clips, with their dancing and signing, on the same level as Islamist videos calling for murder”

End Quote Pavel Chikov Human rights activist

"In particular, there are words and actions which humiliate various social groups based on their religion," she added.

The Pussy Riot members have said their performance of the "punk prayer" on 21 February was aimed at highlighting support given to Mr Putin by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

Their brief, obscenity-laced performance implored the Virgin Mary to "throw Putin out".

Any appeal against the verdict has to be made within one month.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, a third member of the group who had her sentence suspended on appeal, said she would try to lodge one, adding: "Today's verdict was to be expected."

However, the court's press secretary suggested Ms Samutsevich was excluded from making an appeal as she had not attended the court's proceedings.

"The prosecutor and the justice ministry of the Russian Federation are considered to be the participants in these proceedings," Yevgenia Pazukhina told the Russian legal news agency Rapsi.

Blacklist

The two band members now in prison, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, are serving two-year sentences after being convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Materials deemed to be "extremist" are put on a blacklist kept by the Russian justice ministry.

Currently the list contains about 1,500 items, mostly related to banned religious and ultra-nationalist groups or those deemed to have a fascist ideology, AFP news agency reports.

A top official of the Russian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, welcomed Thursday's court verdict.

"Many similar texts and video content have already been included on the federal list of extremist materials, and it is quite appropriate that this video clip be included on the list, I think," he said.

Critics have accused Russia's anti-extremism law, first passed in 2002 and regularly amended since then, of being too vague.

The Council of Europe, Europe's main human rights watchdog of which Russia is a member, concluded in a report this summer that the law gave "too wide discretion in its interpretation and application, thus leading to arbitrariness".

Pavel Chikov, head of a network of Russian human rights groups, condemned Thursday's verdict.

"The judge put the group's clips, with their dancing and signing, on the same level as Islamist videos calling for murder," he was quoted as saying by the Russian news website gazeta.ru.

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