The name refers to a Russian feminist punk band:
Given how world famous Pussy Riot has become, people are sometimes surprised to learn that the entire oeuvre of the women’s punk band is made up of six songs and five videos.
Badly recorded, based on simple riffs and scream-like singing, the feminist singers were dismissed by many critics and listeners as amateur, provocative and obscene.
But the performance and release of each song’s video mirrored important steps in the rise of the opposition movement in Russia that protested Vladimir Putin’s return to power as president.
By Friday, when three members of the group were convicted of hooliganism for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral in February to protest the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin, it was clear the group also has won support around the world, including from stars such as Madonna and Paul McCartney and Amnesty International.
The band members wear balaclavas which means that only three young women could be identified for the court case. They received a two-year penal colony sentence. This is the reason:
The three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were picked up outside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior last Feb. 21, after entering a priests-only section of the church and performing a 40-second "punk prayer" that called on the Virgin Mary to expel Putin. Police initially just took down their names and let them go, probably because the church was largely empty at the time, no one was hurt, no property damaged, and the women had left voluntarily when asked to do so.
The women claim their song was a political protest targeting Orthodox Patriarch Kirill who, in the midst of an election campaign, publicly described Putin as "a miracle of God," thus allegedly violating Russia's strictly secular constitution (Article 14).
The lyrics of their song (English translation here) might well be seen as offensive on many levels, but do appear mainly directed at the moving political targets of Putin and Kirill.
Prosecutors, and in the end the court, saw things otherwise. They chose to view it as a conspiratorial "hate crime" motivated by anti-Christian loathing and directed at Russian Orthodox believers.
The verdict against the women reads in part: "The Pussy Riot singers colluded under unestablished circumstances, for the purpose of offensively violating public peace in a sign of flagrant disrespect for citizens.... The women were motivated by religious enmity and hatred, and acted provocatively and in an insulting manner inside a religious building in the presence of a large number of believers," it said.
According to court testimony, the church was almost empty at the time. But the Pussy Riot performance, filmed by a cameraperson, subsequently went viral on YouTube, and it was only after about two weeks – and, most experts believe, as a result of political intervention – that the women were rearrested and the stage was set for a controversy that shows every sign of enduring.
Based on that Monitor article, most Russians don't care. But then most people in general don't care about protest movements.
The harsh sentences of the three women can be put in perspective by comparing the situation in Russia with that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What the role of feminism in all this might be is hard to say. One of the Pussy Riot songs urged Virgin Mary to become a feminist and that could have angered the establishment boyz in the Orthodox Church. But mostly this seems to be about squashing protests against the current Russian tzar, Vladimir Putin.
Added later, courtesy of stoat, the closing statements of the three sentenced members of the Pussy Riot.