Media frenzy over Pussy Riot obscures legal plights of lesser-known protesters
With the eyes of Russia-watchers trained on Pussy Riot, the feminist punk performance-art group whose now-famous trio is bracing for a verdict over their iconoclastic performance at a Moscow cathedral, the plight of Artyom Savyolov has drawn little attention.
Savelyov and at least 11 other young Russians could face stiff prison sentences for taking part in a sanctioned antigovernment protest in Moscow that erupted into clashes between police and demonstrators.
More than 400 people were detained at the May 6 rally, which took place on the eve of the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for a third term as president.
Sixteen of the demonstrators remain in custody and at least 12 of them, including Savyolov, have been charged with calling for mass disorder and assaulting police officers. They could each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Relatives and friends of the defendants have been actively seeking their release. Artyom Savyolovs father, Viktor, and other relatives say they are forming a committee to assist their defense.
"I will oversee the actions of relatives and friends of those detained and appeal to various instances, " he said. "We need to work. We need to get my son and the others out of there. We need to stand together."
While some of those detained are opposition activists, others, like Artyom Savyolov, appear to be people with no links to political, environmental, or rights groups.
This has raised suspicions that their legal woes are intended as a warning sign to Russians to stay off the streets.
Viktor Savyolov describes his son, a former subway worker in his early 30s, as peaceful by nature and says the May 6 event was the first rally he had ever attended. He says his son could not physically have shouted slogans.
"My son has a disability. He has stuttered since he was a child. How could he possibly be guilty of propaganda when he can pronounce the words thank you only on the fourth attempt?" he says. "He is charged with spreading propaganda and shouting out slogans."
Two of the 16 detainees, leftist activist Nikolai Kavkazsky and Moscow student Aleksei Polikhovich, were detained in late July, signaling there could be more arrests.
Investigators have said they are continuing to track down other individuals suspected of disruptive behavior on May 6.
Kavkazskys mother, Natalya Kavkazskaya, says she fears for her sons future.
"Trust me, this is all very hard, " she says. "This is a very difficult and frightening situation, when young people are in jail for attending a rally that was authorized by the government."