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Pussy Riot expresses solidarity with Wisconsin protesters

Members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot appear in a video showing their solidarity with Wisconsin progressives arrested in protests at the Capitol in Madison.

The video by the Voice Project highlights the Solidarity Singers’ campaign and calls on Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to drop charges against protesters.

Band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina appear near the end of the more than 6-minute video and say, “Solidarity with Wisconsin.” They also encourage the Solidarity Sing-A-Longs sparked by Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union push in 2011.

The video was released to mark three years of the struggle against the right-wing Walker administration.

Members of Pussy Riot were imprisoned in Russia for speaking out against oppression and the rule of President Vladimir Putin. Members of the band were whipped by a cossack while protesting at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

On the Web …

http://www.spin.com/articles/pussy-riot-wisconsin-video-solidarity-protest/

https://www.facebook.com/SolidaritySingAlong

5 things to know about chilly US-Russian relations

The weather is warm at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, yet U.S.-Russian relations are still in the deep freeze.

Back in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave Russia’s top diplomat a red button labeled “reset” to symbolize how U.S. relations had thawed — even though it was mistranslated into Russian.

But the outcome was more of a downhill slalom, than a soaring ski jump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had hoped hosting the Olympics would further seal his nation’s status as a world power. But President Barack Obama is among several western leaders who decided not to show up.

Here are five of the issues where U.S.-Russian relations have run off course.

UKRAINE

Washington and Moscow are in a standoff over Ukraine, which is rocked by anti-government demonstrations over Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an agreement with the European Union and his acceptance of a $15 billion loan package from Russia instead.

Both the U.S. and Russia accuse the other of meddling in the affairs of the former Soviet satellite nation. And the two tangled after a Russian government aide posted a video online of a bugged phone call between two top U.S. diplomats.

At one point, a voice believed to be Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland, is heard saying, “Fuck the EU,” in an expression of frustration over the EU’s pace in taking steps to help Ukraine. Nuland later apologized.

The State Department, without directly accusing Russia of recording and posting the audio of the call on YouTube with Russian subtitles, said the incident marked a “new low in Russian tradecraft.”

The Russian government official who posted the link denied any Russian government role, saying he came across the recording while surfing the Web and simply reposted it.

SYRIA

In the bloody war in Syria, Russia is in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s corner and the U.S. supports the opposition.

The Russians made a proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons out of Assad’s control, a proposal embraced by the U.S., U.N. and other nations. Some weapons materials have been destroyed. But peace talks to end the civil war in Syria are not going well.

The talks have been accompanied by a sharp rise in violence. Opposition leaders have called on Russia to pressure the government to prevent the faltering peace negotiations from collapsing. Moreover, Russia says it would veto a Western-proposed U.N. resolution threatening sanctions if Assad’s government does not allow full deliveries of aid to civilians caught in the fighting.

President Barack Obama recently said Moscow was a “holdout” to the passage of the U.N. resolution. Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry and others have delivered a very direct message to the Russians: “That they cannot say that they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when there are starving civilians. … It is not just the Syrians that are responsible; the Russians, as well, if they are blocking this kind of resolution.”

Responding to the latest tit-for-tat, Russia’s foreign ministry accused Washington of a “biased distortion” of the Russian stance on Syria. It said that Russian diplomats were working with Syrian authorities to help humanitarian efforts and challenged the U.S. to use its influence with the rebels to do the same.

U.S. SURVEILLANCE

Tensions with the U.S. and Russia spiked last year after Putin granted temporary asylum to former National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Obama’s demands that the 30-year-old American be returned to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor who fled the United States with classified information, has leaked thousands of pages of documents that revealed that the NSA has been sweeping up millions of Americans’ phone and Internet records and snooping on U.S. allies abroad, including heads of state.

The controversy surrounding the NSA surveillance programs followed Obama to the Group of 20 economic summit in Russia last fall, but Obama chose to call off his one-on-one meeting with Putin while he was in Russia. The Snowden affair has given Moscow a way to turn the tables on Washington, which often criticizes Russia’s human rights record.

GAY RIGHTS

The Olympics also has been a venue for debate over a Russian law, signed by Putin last June, banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors. The law has drawn strong international criticism and calls for a boycott of the Sochi Games from gay activists and others.

A coalition of 40 human-rights and gay rights groups from the U.S., Western Europe and Russia wrote a letter to the 10 biggest Olympic sponsors, urging them to denounce the law and run ads promoting equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The law bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors — a measure viewed by activists as forbidding almost any public expression of support for gay rights. The law cleared parliament virtually unopposed and has extensive public support in Russia.

Obama, who has criticized the Russian law, named a U.S. delegation to the Olympics that includes several openly gay athletes, including tennis great Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano.

PUSSY RIOT

Two members of the punk band Pussy Riot have urged politicians attending the Winter Olympics to criticize human rights abuses in Russia.

The two performers, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years in prison for hooliganism after an irreverent performance blasting Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral that was broadcast around the world.

Now out of prison, the two criticized Russia’s law banning pro-homosexual propaganda from reaching minors and the risks — including beatings — that gay people and other minority groups can face in Russia if they speak out.

After meeting the two punk rockers in New York, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power traded jibes on Twitter with Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. “I asked Pussy Riot if they were afraid of prison. Response: No. In prison we could see the terrible conditions. It’s human rights fieldwork,” Power added.

Asked about it later, Churkin defended the performers’ arrest, re-tweeting sarcastically that perhaps Power would like to invite the band to perform in a world tour at the National Cathedral in Washington, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Mecca in Saudi Arabia “and end up with a gala concert at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.”

Putin frees his enemies as part of Sochi spin

It came as a shock both for those released and the general public — President Vladimir Putin’s move to pardon his foes has allowed him to drive the news agenda less than two months before the Sochi Games.

Putin is dribbling out a headline day after day in the media. First, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released after a decade in prison, then Pussy Riot activists were pardoned and now 30 Greenpeace activists are awaiting their turn.

The abrupt move by Putin to release his adversaries mixed the elements of an astute spin effort with a crude KGB-style operation. The pardons could help repair some of the damage to Russia’s image before the Winter Olympics, which run Feb. 7-23, but it doesn’t ease tensions with the West over Ukraine and other issues, including gay rights, and keeps tight Kremlin control over Russia’s political scene unchanged.

No one in Russia expected Putin to release Khodorkovsky, his arch-foe and once Russia’s richest man, after more than a decade in prison. In fact, most observers felt pretty certain that authorities would file another set of criminal charges against the former oil tycoon to prevent him from walking free after serving his term.

One-time Kremlin insider, political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, saw the gloomy expectations as part of a carefully choreographed performance ending with Khodorkovsky’s surprise release and his swift move to Germany.

“It’s quite obvious that it was timed for Christmas,” Pavlovsky said. “Putin has turned it into a big European and global show.”

Putin announced his decision to pardon Khodorkovsky as he was walking out of a four-hour news conference in response to a question from a Kremlin-friendly news outlet. If he did that at the news conference, it would have diverted attention from other subjects and spoiled the show.

Khodorkovsky told the media in Berlin that Putin’s statement came as a surprise to him, even though he had submitted a request for a pardon on German advice. A few hours later, he was taken from his bunk in the middle of the night, flown away from prison in a helicopter and put on a Germany-bound private jet.

Some compared Khodorkovsky’s release to the expulsion of dissidents during Cold War times, when Putin served as a KGB officer.

One motive behind the secretive effort could be a desire to prevent Khodorkovsky from making a triumphant exit from prison to dozens of TV cameras – something the KGB also tried to do when they quickly and quietly escorted foes of the Soviet regime out of the country.

Khodorkovsky’s release topped the news for several days. Then, on Monday came the turn of the two members of the Pussy Riot punk band, who were serving two-year terms for an irreverent protest against Putin at Moscow’s main cathedral in March 2012.

The two women didn’t receive the same secretive treatment that Khodorkovsky had and were quickly released. Maria Alekhina was driven to a railway station, but walked away and went to a local non-governmental organization. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went to her grandmother’s home after being released from prison and briefly speaking to journalists.

“They were released at a speed unseen in a clumsy Russian prison system,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Moscow-based political analyst who had close links with the Kremlin in the past. “There must have been a strict order to do it quickly.”

Immediately upon their release, the band members slammed Putin’s amnesty as a publicity stunt, and Tolokonnikova called for a boycott of the Sochi Games to protest Russia’s human rights record. They likely will remain a thorn in Putin’s side, but keeping them in prison through the Olympics until their term expires in March could have posed a much bigger problem for the Kremlin, serving as a globally recognizable symbol of Russia’s intolerance to dissent.

Next on the list is the 30-member crew of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, who spent two months in jail for a protest outside Russia’s Arctic oil platform. They are waiting for a stamp in their passports to be able to leave Russia, something expected within days.

The timing of the amnesty was carefully chosen to prevent Putin from looking as if he caved in to pressure. For many years, the Kremlin has ignored calls at home and abroad for Khodorkovsky’s release, and it has likewise stonewalled protests against jailing the Pussy Riot band members from some of the world’s leading musicians and renowned public figures.

The amnesty came at the moment when few expected it.

By pardoning his most visible foes and critics, Putin removes some of the most visible irritants in Russia’s relations with the West that threatened to stain the Olympics, his pet project.

But other problems continue to mar Russia-West ties.

Putin’s efforts to block Ukraine’s pact with the European Union have caused dismay in both Brussels and Washington.

The Kremlin law banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” that activists and Western governments denounced as discriminatory against gays remains and will continue to draw protests in the run-up and during the Olympics. Putin has shown no intention to rescind the legislation that he cast as a necessary part of efforts to shore up Russia’s traditional values.

And other repressive laws, rubber-stamped by the Kremlin-controlled parliament after Putin’s election to a third term, also stand. In response to mass protests in Moscow against Putin’s rule, legislators sharply hiked fines for participants in unauthorized protests and imposed new tight restrictions on non-government organizations, which the Kremlin sees as an outlet of Western influence.

“The government wants to show mercy, but if someone else challenges the government on issues that it considers important, it will show no clemency,” said Alexei Makarkin, a deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based independent think-tank. “If some businessman decides tomorrow to finance the opposition, he may share the fate of Khodorkovsky.”

In a clear signal to the opposition that the Kremlin has no intention to ease control, Putin’s amnesty freed only few of more than 20 people arrested for their role in a May 2012 protest on the eve of Putin’s inauguration that ended in scuffles with police.

Artist who painted Putin in underwear flees Russia

A museum director says an artist whose paintings depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s undergarments has fled the country.

The director of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Power, Tatiana Titova, said that Konstantin Altunin left for France and was planning to request asylum there.

Authorities removed four of Altunin’s satirical depictions of Russian politicians on Monday and shut down the exhibition.

A police statement did not specify which laws may have been violated by the provocative works. A Russian law prohibits insulting state authorities. Another law bans so-called homosexual propaganda aimed at minors.

Last year, an exhibit that depicted members of the Pussy Riot punk band as holy icons drew the ire of religious and pro-government activists, who came to protest the exhibition’s opening.

Imprisoned Pussy Riot member hospitalized

A jailed member of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band has been hospitalized and had complained of headaches and of suffering from overwork at a prison colony known for its tough conditions, a fellow band member said.

An official confirmed that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is serving a two-year sentence for an irreverent protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral, is in a hospital at her prison colony in Mordovia in western Russia. But Federal Prison Service spokeswoman Kristina Belousova declined to specify her illness or comment on her condition, saying only it was “nothing serious.”

She didn’t say when exactly Tolokonnikova was admitted, but said it happened recently.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, a band member who also was sentenced to two years in August but later released on appeal, added that during their trial Tolokonnikova said she was suffering from headaches and the judge ignored it. Samutsevich said that Tolokonnikova feels exhausted after working long hours with little sleep.

“They don’t allow her to have any rest; she works nearly round the clock,” Samutsevich told independent Rain TV on Friday. “She said she feels tired, extremely tired.”

Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova’s husband, said the hospitalization was connected with an appointment Tolokonnikova had been scheduled to have before she was sent to the colony, rather than a specific illness. “Obviously, the conditions aren’t that great, but her lawyer’s dealing with it,” he told The Associated Press.

In an interview published last week in the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Tolokonnikova stoically described harsh prison conditions, saying she doesn’t expect any leniency from authorities. 

Tolokonnikova, who works at a sewing machine like most female prisoners in Russia’s prison colonies, told the paper that she has had her fingers punctured by the needle but has picked up speed and experience and can now meet her quota of making lining for 320 jackets a day. Like other prisoners, she bathes once a week and uses cold water to wash the rest of the week. 

“I am not paying much attention to living conditions,” she said in an interview filmed in December. “I’m ascetic, and living conditions matter little for me.”

Tolokonnikova said she meditates to prevent her spirit from being dulled by the monotonous labor and added that the main thing she misses at her prison colony is the ability to read freely.

Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and the third band member, Maria Alekhina, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in August after they raucously prayed to the Virgin Mary for the deliverance from Putin at Christ the Savior Cathedral. Samutsevich was freed in October, but the two others were sent to prison colonies. The verdict has drawn global outrage, highlighting Russia’s intolerance of dissent.

Pussy Riot members face tough life in penal colony

It’s a far cry from Stalin’s gulag, but the guiding principle of the Russian penal colony — the destination of two members of punk band Pussy Riot — remains the same: isolate inmates and wear them down through “corrective labor.”

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will have to quickly learn the inner laws of prison life, survive the dire food and medical care, and risk bullying from inmates either offended by their “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin or under orders to pressure them.

“Everyone knows the rule: Trust no one, never fear and never forgive,” said Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who spent three years in a penal colony. “You are in no-man’s land. Nobody will help you. You have to think about everything you say and do to remain a person.”

Alekhina, 24, Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an impromptu performance in Moscow’s main cathedral as Putin headed into an election that handed him a third term as Russia’s president. The women insisted their protest was political. But many believers said they were deeply offended by the sight of the band members dancing on the altar in balaclavas.

An appeals court released Samutsevich last week, but upheld the two-year prison terms of the others. The presiding judge said that “their correction is possible only in isolation from society.”

In colonies for women, inmates live in barracks with 30 to 40 to a room. They begin the day by shuffling outside for compulsory exercises at daybreak, in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter. After roll call and a breakfast of gruel, they spend seven to eight hours a day at work, usually hunched over sewing machines working on uniforms and other clothing.

Since there is only one women’s penal colony near Moscow, female prisoners from the capital are commonly sent to Mordovia, a swampy, mosquito-infested province on the Volga River. Defense lawyers said Alekhina and Tolokonnikova would be transported to a penal colony within two weeks, after receiving copies of their sentences. The location was not yet known.

Despite the harsh conditions, many prisoners nonetheless prefer the colonies to the pre-trial detention centers, where they are kept in cramped, sometimes spectacularly unhygienic cells and only allowed out for an hour a day. The three Pussy Riot members were held in such a center since their February arrest.

Russian inmates are kept in a system that Russia’s own justice minister has described as “monstrously archaic” and whose purpose has changed little for hundreds of years. Czarist Russia sent prisoners to remote Siberian colonies where labor was in short supply; the system was inherited and expanded by the Soviet Union, which worked millions of prisoners to death in the gulag. Russia incarcerates more people than any country in the world bar the United States and China, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

There have been other high-profile penal colony inmates in Putin’s Russia.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the Yukos oil company, served part of his 14-year sentence in an Eastern Siberian colony. Once Russia’s richest man, he served his time making mittens. Arrested in 2003, Khodorkovsky was convicted in two cases seen as punishment for challenging Putin’s power.

Bakhmina, who once worked for Khodorkovsky, said you have little free time to yourself in the prison colony, where guards often compel prisoners to attend classes or participate in cultural activities. In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, former Ambassador William Burns recalled visiting a women’s prison where inmates put on a “bizarre fashion and talent show” for American officials.

“Boredom doesn’t exist in the colony. It’s too good a concept for it. You just regret the time you spend,” Bakhmina said. “A normal person can’t even imagine that environment – you have to get used to it and people have to get used to you. It takes several months, maybe half a year. It’s all about how you behave – you have to not be conceited and respect other people.”

Prisoners are typically paid the equivalent of about $10 a day, which they can use to buy food, cigarettes, and toiletries. Those whose families don’t send them supplies scrape through on the unofficial labor market, cleaning up the facilities or doing work for wealthier inmates. Cigarette packs are the colony’s internal currency.

Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, both university graduates, are unlikely to have much in common with their fellow inmates. “I didn’t think there even were people like 90 percent of the people I met,” Bakhmina recalled. “I never had any idea there were so many drug addicts, or so many people with speech impediments.”

Spouses are allowed three-day conjugal visits four times a year. Prisoners who show especially good behavior can even be given two weeks’ leave outside the camp. Bakhmina became pregnant while serving her term and was released several months after giving birth to a daughter. She saw her two older sons only twice during her three years in the penal colony, afraid it would be too traumatic for them to see their mother imprisoned.

Mothers with children under the age of 3 can keep them in centers on penal colony grounds, or in the case of one colony in Mordovia in their barracks. Alekhina’s 5-year-old son and Tolokonnikova’s 4-year-old daughter will live with relatives.

The two punk band members can be punished with up to 15 days in solitary confinement for minor infractions such as failing to make their beds or to put their hands behind their backs at roll call or to greet guards quickly enough.

Perhaps the greatest danger for the band members, however, will be posed by their fellow inmates. Physical violence, while a danger, is relatively rare in comparison to men’s colonies. But the psychological pressure can be greater, said Vitaly Borshchyov, head of the Public Monitoring Commission, a human rights organization that works with the government to improve prison conditions.

“Colonies are all-consuming for women,” he said. “Having a large group of women together in a single space is a recipe for tension and conflicts. You might get beaten up, sexually humiliated or forced to be someone’s lover, especially if you’re a young woman.”

The Pussy Riot members’ lawyers and supporters also fear that Orthodox believers may attack them, either inspired by the extremely negative coverage of their protest on state television or egged on by state officials.

“When things get worse on the outside, it gets transferred into the colonies,” said Lev Ponomarev, a Soviet dissident who runs the Defending Prisoners’ Rights foundation. “Scoundrels think they can get away with more. The authorities are totally indifferent.”

The band members have vowed to remain defiant.

“We will not be silent,” Alekhina told the appeals court last week. “And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia we will not be silent … however zealously you try to smear us.”

Tens of thousands protest Russia’s Putin

The first major protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin after a summer lull drew tens of thousands of people, determined to show that opposition sentiment remains strong despite Kremlin efforts to muzzle dissent.

The street protests broke out after a December parliamentary election won by Putin’s party through what observers said was widespread fraud, and they grew in strength ahead of Putin’s effectively unopposed election in March to a third presidential term.

Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.

“We have to defend the rights that we were deprived of, the right to have elections. We were deprived of honest elections and an honest government,” opposition activist Alexander Shcherbakov said. “I’ve come to show that and to demonstrate that the people are opposed. I’m opposed to the illegitimate government and illegitimate elections.”

Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others as they marched down Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “We are the power here!” Many wore the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement.

About 7,000 police officers stood guard along the route of the march, and a police helicopter hovered overhead. A protest rally, held on a wide street named for the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, remained peaceful as it stretched into the evening. As the 10 p.m. deadline neared, a couple of hundred people were still on the street and police herded them toward a subway station. One of the opposition leaders, Sergei Udaltsov, was detained along with a handful of his supporters when he tried to lead a group of about 50 on a new protest march.

Putin has shown less tolerance for the opposition since his inauguration in May. New repressive laws have been passed to deter people from joining protests, and opposition leaders have been subject to searches and interrogations. In August, a court handed down two-year prison sentences to three members of the punk band Pussy Riot for performing an anti-Putin song inside Moscow’s main cathedral.

Big balloons painted with the band’s trademark balaclava masks floated over the crowd on Saturday, while some rally participants wore T-shirts in support of Pussy Riot.

Many demonstrators targeted Putin with creative placards and outfits. Some mocked Putin’s recent publicity stunt in which he flew in a motorized hang glider to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight.

One protester donned a white outfit similar to the one worn by Putin on the flight with a sign reading: “Give up hope, each of you who follow me.” Another person held a placard that said: “We are not your cranes.”

Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption crusader and a popular blogger, remains the rock star among the protest leaders. When he took the stage, young people in the crowd held up their phones to record the moment.

Navalny urged the demonstrators to show resolve and keep up the pressure on the Kremlin with more street protests.

“We must come to rallies to win freedom for ourselves and our children, to defend our human dignity,” he said to cheers of support. “We will come here as to our workplace. No one else will free us but ourselves.”

The rally appeared as big as the last major protest in June, which also attracted tens of thousands. More of the demonstrators, however, came not as members of the varied political organizations that make up the protest movement, but with groups of friends and co-workers, some of them organizing on social networks.

As part of a new initiative, activists collected contact information and addresses from demonstrators to make it easier to organize civic actions on a neighborhood level.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant, who attended Saturday’s rally, estimated that up to 500,000 people have taken part in the protests in Moscow, a city of 11.5 million.

He said the Kremlin has not figured out how to deal with the protest movement.

“Therefore, they alternate between taking tough action and stepping back from confrontation,” Pavlovsky said. “For the Kremlin, it is very worrying that Moscow no longer supports Putin, but it is very important that this is purely a Moscow phenomenon.”

Although opposition protests also were held Saturday in several other Russian cities, the largest, in St. Petersburg, drew only a few thousand people. Protests elsewhere attracted only hundreds or even dozens. About 100 attended an unsanctioned rally in Nizhny Novgorod and about 20 of them were detained.

The Moscow organizers had spent days in tense talks with the city government over the protest route for Saturday, typical of the bargaining that has preceded each of the opposition marches.

A protest on the eve of Putin’s inauguration ended in clashes with police, and the Kremlin responded by arresting some of the participants and approving a new draconian law that raised fines 150-fold for taking part in unsanctioned protests. The city, however, granted permission for the subsequent opposition rally in June, which was peaceful.

A day before the weekend rally, parliament expelled an opposition lawmaker who had turned against the Kremlin and joined the protest movement. Anger over the ouster of Gennady Gudkov may have helped to swell the ranks of the protesters.

“Russia no longer has a constitution,” Gudkov told the rally. “Russia no longer has rights, and Russia no longer has a parliament worthy of respect. Shame on this parliament, and shame on this government!”

Gudkov’s expulsion also means he loses his immunity from prosecution, and his supporters fear he could face arrest.

His son, Dmitry Gudkov, also a lawmaker, said he hopes the Kremlin will think twice about arresting his father after seeing the size of the protest. “They will either have to think about serious reforms and end their repressions, or they will come to a very bad end,” he said as marched with a column of protesters.

“It’s necessary right now for all Russians to come out into the streets to show the regime that changes are needed in our country, and that without them our country can’t develop,” said teacher Valentina Merkulova, who participated in Saturday’s protest. “The most important thing is that, the more Russians come out, the less bloody the change of regime, the change of power. A change of power is necessary.”

Pussy Riot-like ‘justice’ around the world

The two-year prison sentence handed down to punk rock band Pussy Riot for a provocative protest inside a Moscow cathedral called attention to just how hard President Vladimir Putin is clamping down on minor displays of dissent.

But Russia isn’t the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand, slaughtering cattle without government permission in Cuba, selling land to Israelis in the West Bank and having gay sex in Ethiopia. A British man was sent to jail for stealing a bottle of water.

While blasphemy is considered a serious crime in much of the Muslim world, a Christian girl in Pakistan has been arrested after furious neighbors accused her of burning pages of the Quran.

Here’s a look around the world at crime and punishment:

SINGAPORE

Vandalism is punishable in Singapore by prison terms and three to eight strokes of the cane, delivered on the buttocks with a thick rattan stick that leaves lifelong scars. In 2010, Swish national Oliver Fricker pleaded guilty to trespassing into a subway train depot and creating graffiti on a car. He got seven months in jail and three strokes of the cane.

Singapore also is famous for the ban it imposed on chewing gum in 1992. Violations carry a fine of several hundred dollars, although no one has been convicted in recent years.

THAILAND

Thailand has some of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world, mandating a jail term of three to five years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king. Among those who have run afoul of the law is Joe Gordon, a Thai-born American sentenced to two and a half years in prison for translating a banned biography about the Thai king and posting it online. He was freed in July by a royal pardon. Amphon Tangnoppakul was not so fortunate. He died in prison in May at age 62, less than a year into a 20-year sentence for sending four defamatory text messages.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabweans are routinely arrested and fined for insulting President Robert Mugabe under sweeping security laws that prohibit citizens from “undermining the authority of the president.” A salesman was held in jail from April to July after being found with satirical cartoons of Mugabe on his mobile phone, including one depicting a naked, skeletal Mugabe sitting on his haunches. His case was eventually dropped on a legal technicality.

INDONESIA

Last year, a Muslim mob stormed a courthouse on Java and set three churches on fire to protest what they called a lenient sentence for a Christian convicted of blaspheming Islam. Antonius Richmond Bawengan was found guilty of distributing Christian books and leaflets that “spread hatred about Islam” and was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum term.

MOROCCO

In May, a court in Morocco convicted rapper Mouad Belghouat of attacking the image of the security services in a song about police corruption and sentenced him to a year in prison. His defense team claims the case is a political attack on the pro-democracy activist.

LEBANON

In Lebanon, considered to be one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, insulting religions or sects can lead to a prison sentence of up to three years, a law designed to protect co-existence in a country with 18 religious sects. Insulting the president also is punishable by up to three years in prison, and a couple of years ago three people were arrested for slandering the president in Facebook postings. They received jail sentences, but were released after a few months.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

Anyone defaming or vilifying a president, minister, lawmaker or other high official faces up to three years in prison. Journalists and bloggers have been detained for weeks under the law, including one blogger who cursed President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook. Her case was dropped due to public pressure just before trial.

The Palestinians also have tough laws when it comes to dealing with Israel. Since the Palestinian Authority was established two decades ago, 140 people have been charged with selling West Bank land to Israel, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Palestinian officials said it was unknown how many of them were convicted.

SAUDI ARABIA

Women can face arrest for driving and trying to travel abroad without the permission of their husband or male guardian. Unrelated men and woman can risk arrest for mingling in private or public.

One other rather unique rule in effect throughout much of the Gulf makes bouncing checks a criminal offense, punishable by jail time and/or deportation.

PAKISTAN

People convicted of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death in Pakistan. Human rights activists complain the blasphemy laws are widely misused to persecute Christians or settle scores in the mostly Muslim country. A Christian girl was arrested last week after hundreds of angry people gathered outside her house in Islamabad and demanded that police investigate reports that she had burned pages of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.

ETHIOPIA

Homosexual acts carry severe penalties in many African countries, including in Ethiopia where those convicted of gay sex can face 10 years in prison.

CUBA

Some nonpolitical crimes carry stiff penalties in Cuba. Farmers who slaughter their own cattle without permission from the government face potential prison terms of four to 10 years, while transporting, selling or even purchasing such beef also can land someone in jail.

In January, six people were given eight- and 10-year sentences for cutting down nine mahogany trees in a botanical reserve.

UNITED STATES

Tough federal drug laws have mandatory minimum five-year prison terms and up to $5 million in fines for first offense trafficking, and life imprisonment and up to $20 million in fines for third offenses.

The three-strikes laws helped send a California man to prison for 25 years to life for possession of about $10 worth of methamphetamine. His first two convictions were for burglary. Shane Taylor’s sentence was appealed to California’s Supreme Court.

BRITAIN

And then there is Nicolas Robinson, who drew a six-month jail sentence for stealing a water bottle from a London supermarket during the public disorder that swept the country last summer. Even tougher sentences were handed down to Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for trying to organize riots on Facebook; both received four years in jail despite the fact that no one showed up, aside from police. Judges said the sentences were necessary in the context of the violent unrest.

Contributing to this report were Thanyarat Doksone and Vijay Joshi in Bangkok; Raphael Satter and Raissa Ioussof in London; Peter Orsi in Havana, Cuba; Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe; Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon; Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank; Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad; and Lara Jakes in Baghdad.

Moscow court upholds gay Pride ban for next 100 years

A Moscow court on Aug. 17 upheld a ban against gay Pride parades for the next century.

The ruling from the city court affirms a Moscow law banning public LGBT gatherings from March 2012 until May 2112, according to the BBC’s website.

An appeal is expected, first to a higher court in Russia and then possibly to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe has sided with Russian gay rights advocates in the past, including issuing a finding that the city had discriminated based on sexual orientation by banning Pride parades from 2006-2008.

In September, the council will examine Russia’s response to a previous European Court ruling on gay rights.

AllOut.org, a gay rights group, condemned the law and also the silence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In related news, AP reported that a Moscow judge on Aug. 17 sentenced three members of the provocative punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison on hooliganism charges following a trial seen around the world as an emblem of Russia’s intolerance of dissent.

The trial inspired a wave of small but raucous protests across Europe and North America in support of the feminist rockers, who have been dubbed prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Hundreds of Pussy Riot supporters waiting outside the Moscow courtroom chanted “down with the police state” when the sentence was announced. Dozens were detained, including several opposition leaders.