Why Pussy Riot MattersPosted: August 18, 2012 Filed under: Human Rights | Tags: free speech, Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, Pussy Riot 24 Comments
St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!
It is interesting to watch the growing amount of support for Pussy Riot. The women have been sentenced to two years in jail for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for using an orthodox cathedral to do a performance piece in protest of the powerful Vladimir Putin. Vlad the Pussy Jailer’s heavy hand was seen in the recently delivered verdict. Outcry over the harsh sentence is coming from all over the world.
Russia on Saturday faced a storm of international criticism after sentencing three members of the Pussy Riot punk band to two years in prison for a political protest in an Orthodox cathedral.
Speculation mounted that the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, could have their sentences cut on appeal after the damaging global reaction, with the Russian public also questioning the sentence.
Judge Marina Syrova said the three young protesters had shown a “clear disrespect toward society” by staging a “Punk Prayer” calling on the Virgin Mary to drive out Vladimir Putin just weeks ahead of his election in March to a third presidential term.
The United States called the sentences “disproportionate”, while Britain, France and the European Union also said the punishment was excessive and questioned Russia’s rights record.
Prominent supporters of the women spoke out to criticise the sentence.
International pressure “may not have secured the outcome many people wanted to see. But we need to keep up the fight,” wrote British member of parliament Kerry McCarthy, who attended the trial, on blog site LabourList.
Newspaper owner Alexander Lebedev, who co-owns Russia’s Novaya Gazeta daily and owns Britain’s Independent daily, called the women “prisoners of conscience” on Twitter.
Yoko Ono, the avant-garde artist and widow of John Lennon, posted a message of support to Samutsevich on Twitter on Saturday, saying: “You have won for all of us women in the world.”
It’s an important reminder of what happens when freedom of expression is not protected. It also puts Russia and Vlad the Pussy Jailer in very bad light.
But international opinion can often have a negative impact in Russia. How the trial and its outcome have affected Russian public opinion may play a much bigger role in coming months, as the anti-Putin protest
movement returns to the streets after a summer hiatusand the political season begins anew.
Public opinion has remained rather staunchly anti-Pussy Riot since the women were arrested in March. The latest poll, released last week by the independent Levada Center in Moscow, shows little change.
According to the survey, 55 percent of Russians did not have their views of the judicial system altered by the trial; 9 percent said it diminished their trust in courts while 5 percent said it increased it, and 12 percent said they have no faith in the courts to begin with. About 36 percent thought the verdict would be based on the facts of the case; 18 percent thought the verdict would be dictated “from the top.” Interestingly, when asked what they thought the punk band’s goal was in staging the protest, about 30 percent of respondents said it was “against the church and its role in politics”; 13 percent thought it was “against Putin” and 36 percent said they could not discern the purpose.
More worrisome, from the Kremlin‘s point of view, is the effect the trial has had on Russia’s more educated and influential social strata. Of course the usual suspects – opposition leaders, artists, liberal intellectuals – have popped up to protest the treatment of the women, who were kept almost six months in pretrial detention and now face more than a year in the harsh conditions of a Russian penal colony.
But unease over a prosecution that carries such obvious political and religious overtones appears to be spreading far beyond Russia’s small liberal and opposition circles.
The fact that we’re seeing this play out in the press suggests some very big changes have been made in the former Soviet Union state since the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, it is also a reminder that the country has not let go of its totalitarian roots. This it what will do the real damage. It will impact Foreign Direct Investment because it shows the Russia Courts can be gamed for political purposes. It will also hurt Russia’s ability to show itself in diplomacy circles as a modern nation. However, I suggest that the lesson is somewhat deeper than that.
The 10 witnesses—security guards, a candle-keeper, and a sacristan—said they suffered “moral damage” and are thus considered victims of the prayer, under the Russian Criminal Code. The lawyers who represent one of the security guards, Vladimir Potan’kin, said that their client was so mentally injured that he now has sleeping problems. Furthermore, in a twist not even worthy of a third-rate paperback, they stated that the Pussy Rioters are connected at the highest level to Satan himself.
The nature of the debate about freedom of speech, religious freedom, and political expression is one that is often misconstrued when that speech is profoundly offensive, crude, vulgar, or even malicious. “Nice” speech seldom requires defense. It is that which causes offense, whether or not it is intended, which must be protected if a society is to remain free. Deny freedom of expression to one and you effectively deny it to all. In those rare instances where restrictions on speech are permissible, they must be relevant, necessary, and pursuant to legitimate democratic aims—usually based on time, place, and manner, not on content. Had the Pussy Riot band interrupted a religious ceremony or had they been making loud noises at 4 a.m. in a neighborhood, there would be grounds for restricting their actions. However, the prosecution of Pussy Riot meets none of these conditions. Parody, irony, and humor are some of the most powerful weapons against established authority, especially the despotic kind. It is why Socrates was sentenced to death; it is why Voltaire’s criticism of the French absolutist monarchy was so disruptive that he was exiled from Paris; it is why Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, who hypocritically just granted asylum to Julian Assange, sued a journalist and newspaper for $42 million for a column that made fun of him as a tyrant; it is why Hugo Chavez in Venezuela extended the contempt laws to make it a crime to disrespect him, leading to investigations of cartoonists; it is why Manal Al- Sharif fears for her life in Saudi Arabia for driving a car and challenging the ban on female drivers; it is why Ai Weiwei is hit with trumped up tax-evasion charges after mocking China’s dictatorship, and why Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest by the Burmese military junta until just recently. The despotic mind is utterly undone and downright defenseless in the face of creative dissent.
The church, public opinion, and Vlad the Pussy Jailor seem to follow the form of that last line written by Thor Halvorssen for Forbes although now the church’s priests have said they’ve ‘forgiven’ the women. Here’s an article from Truth Out containing the gist of what the church has said about the protest which I find highly disturbing.
But while the case has allowed critics of Mr. Putin to portray his government as squelching free speech and presiding over a rigged judicial system, it has also given the government an opportunity to portray its political opponents as obscene, disrespectful rabble-rousers, liberal urbanites backed by the West in a conspiracy against the Russian state and the Russian church.
The extent of the culture clash was evident this month when Madonna paused during a concert in Moscow to urge the release of the women, who have been jailed since March, and performed in a black bra with “Pussy Riot” stenciled in bold letters on her back. The next day, Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, posted a Twitter message calling Madonna a “whore.”
On Friday, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement that referred to Nazi aggression and the militant atheism of the Soviet era, and said, “What happened is blasphemy and sacrilege, the conscious and deliberate insult to the sanctuary and a manifestation of hostility to millions of people.”
The fact a church is claiming persecution while using Vlad the Jailor to enforce its own patriarchal agenda is appalling. Free speech does not stop at the steps of a church or the feelings of its believers. This issue,however, is bigger than Russia which brings me to the heavy handed treatment of the Occupy Protestors in the US and to the FBI infiltration of left wing activists with causes like providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Exactly how many degrees of separation are they–and we–from the feminist punk rockers? I would argue that we are closer than we’d like to think.
Live Blog: Chen Guangcheng Makes Phone Call to Congressional Hearing to Ask for Hillary’s HelpPosted: May 3, 2012 Filed under: China, Foreign Affairs, Live Blog, U.S. Politics | Tags: Chen Guangcheng, Congress, foreign policy, Hillary Clinton, Human Rights, Mitt Romney, Obama Administration 45 Comments
A short time ago, activist Chen Guangcheng made a direct call from his hospital room to a Congressional Hearing on China.
Calling in to the Congressional Executive Commission on China, dissident Chen Guangcheng told lawmakers he is concerned for the safety of his family and he wants to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her efforts to help him over the past few days.
“I hope I can get more help from her,” he said over speakerphone to the two Republican lawmakers who were present.
The 40-year-old lawyer became famous last week after had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy after escaping more than a year and a half of house arrest. In a deal between the U.S. and China, Chen was then released to a Chinese hospital and is now under Chinese control. Chen initially said he wanted to stay in China but shortly after leaving the embassy he changed his mind.
“The thing I (am) most concerned (about) right now is the safety of my mother, my brothers, and I really want to know what’s going on with them,” Chen said through a translator at Thursday’s congressional hearing.
Chen said he wanted to come to the United States for some “rest,” because he has not rested for 10 years.
I’ve highlighted the portions of the article that refer to Hillary. It sounds to me as if Chen does trust Hillary. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see why he would be specifically asking for her help if he did not.
There is a lot of news breaking on this story, so I thought I’d put it up as a live blog so we could discuss what’s happening in China right now. I haven’t been following the story closely, but it appears to me that some very delicate negotiations are probably going on behind the scenes.
I really don’t think it’s helpful for Mitt Romney and Republican lawmakers who have no way of knowing what is really happening to be attacking the Obama administration in the midst of a human rights crisis. Hasn’t there always been tradition of the other party stepping back in situations like this and waiting for the outcome before attacking? Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.
Here is what Mitt Romney had to say earlier this afternoon.
Romney, in a speech in Portsmouth, accused the administration of seeking to hasten Chen’s departure from the embassy placing economic concerns above Chen’s freedom.
“The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration, willingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family, and also probably sped up, or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning to have with China,” Romney said.
“It’s also apparent according to these reports, if they are accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family,” Romney added. “If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom here and around the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack.”
So far, I haven’t been able to find any evidence that Hillary pushed Chen to leave the U.S. Embassy. I’ve read that he wanted to leave because he found out that his wife had been beaten. From the Guardian UK
The activist, who is blind, left the US embassy in Beijing after agreeing to a deal allowing him to stay in China and study law at university, with reassurances from authorities.
But it appears he changed his mind after being reunited with his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their children at the hospital, talking to friends about the risks, and learning from Yuan about apparent threats made by local officials in the eastern province of Shandong, where the family lived under a brutal regime of illegal house arrest for 19 months prior to his escape.
So Chen learned about the threats to his family after he got to the hospital and talked to his wife. He didn’t learn this from U.S. officials while he was in the Embassy. So why is Romney saying that? IMHO, it is totally inappropriate for any politician of any party to be making public statements in the midst of an international crisis. If Republicans have concerns about the situation, they should be working behind the scenes, not attacking the very people who are trying to help Chen.
Later in article the guardian reports that on Wednesday night State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:
said in a statement that no US official spoke to Chen about physical or legal threats to his family and nor did the Chinese relay any such threats to American diplomats.
She added that Chen had expressed his desire to stay in China throughout talks.
But she confirmed US officials had passed on the Chinese warning that his family would be returned to Shandong if he stayed at the embassy.
“The problem is not that they relayed it to him – as they should have done – but that it should have raised alarm bells. You have to conclude that if the authorities were ready to play these games they were probably not ready to guarantee his safety,” said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.
Gary Locke, the US ambassador, told reporters he could say unequivocally that Chen was never pressured to leave the embassy.
Even if the State Department erred, I think it is wrong for Romney to be attacking the administration in the middle of tense and delicate negotiations taking place on the other side of the world.
What do you think? I’m continuing to read about this case and will add more links in the comments.
My religion is to kill your religionPosted: February 12, 2012 Filed under: Barack Obama, U.S. Politics, Women's Rights | Tags: Birth Control, bishops, Catholic, contraception, Human Rights 60 Comments
The discussion about the birth control pill fiasco has boggled my mind. I’ll explain the title toward the end, but let me start with my bogglement. There are whole swathes of blogland who feel that so long as the pills are available, it’s all good. They don’t see a problem with the fact that, as Charles Pierce puts it:
The Church has claimed — and the president has tacitly accepted — the right to deny even its employees of other faiths the health-care services of which it doesn’t approve on strictly doctrinal grounds. That is not an issue of “religious liberty.” That’s the enshrinement of religious thuggery in the secular law.
That’s also a remarkable departure in a country founded on the separation of church and state, a country where as recently as twenty years ago even the most conservative of Supreme Court justices asserted that religious practices cannot conflict with the law of the land. Dakinikat quoted a few days ago:
The free exercise [of religion] clause and its meaning is well established. There is very little ambiguity about what it is and what it is not.
“In 1878, the Supreme Court was first called to interpret the extent of the Free Exercise Clause in Reynolds v. United States, as related to the prosecution of polygamy under federal law. The Supreme Court upheld Reynolds’ conviction for bigamy, deciding that to do otherwise would provide constitutional protection for a gamut of religious beliefs, including those as extreme as human sacrifice.”(1)
The Court stated that “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”
Or, as the Reclusive Leftist says:
“[I]n 2000, the EEOC ruled that employers who failed to include birth control coverage in their prescription healthcare plans were in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That’s because the Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. The EEOC allowed no exceptions for religious institutions.
What the Obama Administration has done now is to basically reverse that. They’ve said, “You know what? Never mind. That clause in the Civil Rights Act about discrimination on the basis of sex? Forget it.”
So, yes, the pills will still be there for women who need them. But not because the government says women have the same right as everybody else to make their own decisions about their own health care.
The pills are still there, but not because you have a right to them. It’s because nobody has taken them away yet.
Losing your rights is not a win. Getting birth control pills by the grace of Obama is not a win. Unless you mean a win for him. Now this is something that’s his to bestow … or for those bogeyman Republicans to take away. Or, given Obama’s past actions in non-election years, his to bargain away.
That is why rights are important. Having rights means people who violate them can be held accountable. Receiving dispensations means constantly asking (begging?) for what you need, and tough luck when you don’t get it.
We’ve seen that movie play out in abortion rights. Riverdaughter summarizes:
The same thing happened with abortion. It was merely a few workarounds, a few inconveniences. If you really need an abortion, it will still be there for you. You just need to assuage the consciences of a few religious people. That’s how it started. But how has it ended? In some states, there is only a single provider and women have to risk losing their jobs to get an abortion. It’s no longer just a few workarounds. Now, it’s a major ordeal.
And that progression happened because for too many people it wasn’t about the right to decide your own medical procedures. So long as they still had some kind of escape from forced pregnancy, it was just too difficult to argue about rights. The result is that here we are. Too many people are just glad they can still get birth control pills. Arguing about rights is divisive, difficult, aids and abets Republicans (see above, re “bogeyman”), and time-consuming. And it’s physically nauseating to realize that you’re not a human being in other people’s, including the President’s, mind.
Because the subhuman status of women is an unavoidable consequence of not acknowledging their right to make their own medical decisions. It’s a logical consequence of putting a religion, any belief, ahead of the civil rights of citizens, any citizens.
I’ll go through the steps. There aren’t many. Read the rest of this entry »
We Have ChoicePosted: February 8, 2012 Filed under: just because | Tags: contraception, Human Rights, pro choice, religion, women's reproductive rights 36 Comments
We’ve watched the Republicans flail in all directions, trying to find a message, a mission, an issue to drive them to victory in November. It’s been tough going for the GOP with less than stellar candidates and the endless circus ride the public has witnessed. Now down to four ‘iffy’ wannabes, attention has focused on flaws, egos, missteps and gaffes. Uncle Newt appeals to the confederate South. Ron Paul is loved by the Ayn Rand aficionados. Reptilian Rick Santorum cheers and warms the cockles of the Religious Right. And Mitt Romney. Poor Mitt is loved by virtually no one.
So, I can only imagine the excitement with the new-but-old controversy boiling over birth control and reproductive freedom. The right to choose. It sticks in the craw of the Republican Party, even as the loudest voices scream about liberty and individual rights. This isn’t a question of abortion at this juncture. We’re talking about the basics: contraception, the freedom to choose how many children we have and when we have them. And privacy. A woman’s right to decide these things herself in the privacy of her own space, heart and mind, with or without a husband, with or without government or religious leaders telling her, demanding she turn one way or the other.
To listen to the likes of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and the faux religious warriors, one might think that all religion, but particularly Christianity, has been put on the rack, whipped into humiliating submission or fed to the lions for the vile amusement of secular humanists.
Enough with the lying! Enough with the bully pulpit exhortations with the emphasis on ‘bully.’
Demanding equal access to healthcare, expecting reproductive freedom and sexual/gender equality is not a Satanic plot. It’s what reasonable people do and think. We are not living in the Middle Ages [though I suspect many fundamentalists think of the era as ‘the good ole days]. If anyone doubts the politicization of women’s healthcare issues, please review the past week’s headlines, the unseemly expose of the Komen Foundation, more concerned about dissing Planned Parenthood than serving lower-income women with breast screenings. Or the manufactured outrage of the Catholic Church hierarchy and their mouthpieces, who [sputter, sputter] decry the Administration’s insistence on equitable healthcare service as a vicious attack on religious freedom.
Really? Twenty-eight states require organizations offering prescription insurance to cover contraception. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use birth control and many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees.
Let’s review some recent statistics:
Two-thirds of Catholics, 65 percent, believe that clinics and hospitals that take taxpayer money should not be allowed to refuse procedures or medications based on religious beliefs. A similar number, 63 percent, also believe that health insurance, whether private or government-run, should cover contraception.
A strong majority (78 percent) of Catholic women prefer that their hospital offers emergency contraception for rape victims, while more than half (55 percent) want their hospital to provide it in broader circumstances.
Yet despite these numbers, the Church, the Religious Right and the heat-seeking Republican establishment are foaming at the mouth, waving mummified fists in righteous indignation.
Make no mistake. This is an old war. I wrote about the struggles and absolute determination of Margaret Sanger a few days ago. She fought these battles. The arguments were identical; the accusations the same. She fought the religious establishment, she fought the righteous, small-minded moralists 100 years ago. If anything this should be a wakeup call: the defense of reproductive rights, which are basic human rights, need to be taken seriously, day-in, day-out. Freedoms gained can quickly become freedoms lost. Gender equality, which is a matter of civil rights, should be supported with voices and votes pitched against the ugliness of bigotry and discrimination.
This is a power play wrapped in thin prayer and religious dogma. It’s a desperate attempt by traditional religion to regain ground lost to modernity, a world where the old stories and myths have lost their power, their ability to control by fear, a world in which human dignity applies to all our members, a world where the mysteries of the Universe and our place in it is far grander than our words and imaginations can conjure.
We have choice. We always have. It’s time to put away childish things and become accountable, rational adults if we’re ever to deal with the problems facing us. We can fearfully grasp the old ways, allow ourselves to be drawn into self-limiting dictums. We can argue how many angels dance on the head of a pin with religious fanatics and the politicians who love them.
Or we can say, ‘No!’ We have that choice.