17.08.2012 | Maryana Torocheshnikova

Russian Psychologists ’appalled by expert analysis in Pussy Riot case


For Russian prosecutors looking to justify a charge of "hooliganism … motivated by religious hatred or hostility" against the feminist punk performance-art group Pussy Riot, the third time was the charm.

In order to bring such an indictment, prosecutors needed an "expert analysis" to substantiate the motivation of "religious hatred or hostility." So prosecutors ordered one expert analysis, but came up empty. So they ordered another. Again, a bust. But the third one said what they needed it to say.

Now, three members of Pussy Riot await a verdict, expected August 17, from a Moscow court. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich could face up to seven years in prison for their brief performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. Prosecutors have asked for a three-year sentence.

But about 100 Russian psychologists, linguists, and other academics have signed an open letter to the court lambasting the prosecution’s expert analysis in the case. Noting the analysis’s central role in the entire prosecution, the letter’s authors say: "It has a deeply banal character with a certain amount of reference to old church expressions and dictionaries and cannot be considered psychological or psycholinguistic analysis at all."

"As professionals, we were appalled by this gross lack of professionalism, " says psychologist Marina Yevgorova, the principal author of the letter. "We were puzzled by that expert psycholinguistic conclusion when it was first published on the Internet. It is a text that does not use any professional methodology."

’Loyal Experts’

Defense lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, who is not involved in the Pussy Riot case, tells RFE/RL that courts rarely, if ever, take into consideration alternative expert analyses provided by the defense.

​​"In our trials, similar expert conclusions were refuted almost completely by experts on the defense side, " Stavitskaya says. "However, the court always rejected expert conclusions presented by the defense but trusted the prosecution’s expert reports unconditionally."

She says Russian prosecutors regularly seek out "loyal experts" to provide such analyses. Stavitskaya said that in two cases in which she was involved, the same expert was summoned to provide her "expert analysis" of works of contemporary art -- even though she testified in court that she "can’t stand" modern art and that her qualifications were in religious studies.

’Disgrace To Our Profession’

Psychologist Viktoria Yurkevich also signed the open letter, calling the prosecution’s analysis "a disgrace."

"It is obvious that this piece of writing is primitive in its entirety, " Yurkevich says. "We know that it could have been written in a more professional way. I’m not even bringing up what everybody else is talking about -- references to some 15th- or 16th-century [Christian] council, the Council of Trullo, and so on. The existing report is a disgrace to our profession."

She says she signed the letter out of a sense of professional pride.

"Our letter is a reaction to the report that humiliates, discredits, and belittles our profession, " she says. "Psychology is not as primitive and unprofessional as it follows from this report. I am simply ashamed to see such an incompetent psychologist in the forefront of this."

Last month, two St. Petersburg-based experts with the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and with the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Irina Levinskaya and Valentina Uzunova, also issued a harsh critique of the prosecution’s expert analysis.

In particular, they criticize the report for evaluating material from the published video clip that uses the Pussy Riot performance in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, but which also adds material that was not uttered in the church. Some of the phrases from the video that were deemed particularly offensive to Orthodox Christians were not actually pronounced in the church.

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