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Monday, December 23, 2013

Defiant Remarks From Pussy Riot Activists as They Step From Prison

Twenty-one months after they were detained for barging into a Moscow cathedral to record their “punk prayer,” calling on the Virgin Mary to prevent Vladimir V. Putin’s return to the Russian presidency, two members of the feminist band Pussy Riot were released from prison colonies on Monday under a new amnesty law.

Both activists, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, immediately dismissed the amnesty, issued just three months before the end of their jail terms, as a “cosmetic” publicity stunt tied to the Winter Olympics that Russia is hosting in Sochi in February.

Subtitled video of Ms. Tolokonnikova’s remarks to the television crews waiting for her outside the Siberian prison hospital where she had been held for the past month was posted online by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the American-financed news network.

Video of the Russian activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaking to the news media outside a prison hospital in Siberia after her release on Monday.

Asked about her future plans, Ms. Tolokonnikova told Russia’s TV Rain that she and Ms. Alyokhina had “a plan for a human rights organization to help prisoners in Russia.” According to an English translation of her complete remarks prepared by The Interpreter, a website supported by the dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Institute of Modern Russia, she added:

I don’t consider this time lost for myself. I acquired a unique experience. Therefore, it will be much simpler to be involved in concrete human rights activity than before. I have become more mature and have come to know the state from inside; I saw this little totalitarian machine, what it is like from inside. Russia is really built on the model of the colony. Therefore it is so important to change the colony now, so as to change Russia along with the colony. The colony and the prison are the face of the country.

“We didn’t ask for any pardon,” Ms. Alyokhina told my colleague David Herszenhorn. “I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was suddenly released on Friday into de facto exile in Germany after a decade in prison, said something similar in a news conference on Sunday in Berlin.

Video of the dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaking in Berlin on Sunday, subtitled by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, who described the circumstances of his release to the journalist Yevgenia Albats on Saturday, told Russian reporters at the news conference that their attention had been crucial in his case and also “helps very many people who remain unjustly in our Russian prisons preserve their lives, health and hope for freedom.” He urged the journalists not to see his release “as a symbol that there are no political prisoners left in Russia.”

“I would like you to take me as a symbol that the efforts of civil society may lead to the release of people whose release was not expected by anyone,” he said.

TV Rain also captured video of Mr. Khodorkovsky’s emotional reunion with his parents as they arrived in Berlin from Moscow to be with him.

Video recorded by the Russian news channel TV Rain showed the dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s reunion with his parents in Berlin after his release from prison.

American Gets One-Year Sentence for Spoof Video in United Arab Emirates

Video posted on YouTube by the creators of comedy videos on life in the United Arab Emirates.

In the opening scene of their satirical video, the amateur filmmakers posted a sober message against a black background to make it clear they meant no insult to the people of the United Arab Emirates.

“The following events are fictional and no offence was intended to the people of Satwa and UAE.”

But it apparently did little good to keep the participants in the nearly 20-minute video out of jail.

On Monday, a State Security Court in Abu Dhabi handed down a one-year jail term and a fine of 10,000 dirhams, or about $2,700, to a 29-year-old American man, Shezanne Cassim, and two Indian men for their part in a video posted online, a satire set in the Dubai neighborhood of Satwa.

The verdict, reported by the state-owned newspaper The National, also gave two Emirati citizens eight month sentences each and fines of 5,000 dirhams, while three foreigners were sentenced to a year each in their absence, it said.

Mr. Cassim, who is from Woodbury, Minn., and the four other men were detained in April for questioning by the Emirati authorities over the video, which is a comedy sketch about the fictitious Satwa Combat School. In the film, an instructor named “Saloom Snake” trains combatants to throw sandals, use the thin ropes of an Arab headdress as weapons and summon help on Twitter for fights that never actually occur, as my colleague Ben Hubbard wrote this month.

The video refers to Satwa, an area in Dubai where in the 1990s, teenagers coined the term “Satwa Gs” to describe peers who had adopted hip-hop fashion and listened to rap music, said a statement released by Mr. Cassim’s family after the verdict.

“These “gangstas” were known for their decidedly mild behavior and were seen as the total opposite of actual criminals. The fictional training depicted in the video teaches techniques that include the best way to throw a sandal at a newspaper and, ultimately, how to use the mobile phone when in trouble. That’s the extent of the ‘Satwa Gs’ combat,” the statement said.

With no jury, the judgment and sentence is entirely at the judge’s discretion, and there is no chance for appeal, it said.

The National reported that the two Emirati nationals would be released based on time already served, while Mr. Cassim and the others would be released next month. But hours after the verdict was made public, Susan Burns, a lawyer in Minneapolis who is representing the Cassim family, said in a telephone interview that the details had not been made clear to her or the family and that they had not seen the actual judgment. She said they learned about the verdict from the family’s lawyer in the emirates, who was in court and called Mr. Cassim’s brother.

Ms. Burns said that when he was first taken in for questioning, Mr. Cassim offered to remove the video from YouTube, where it only had about 200 hits at the time, but was not allowed. He and the others were subsequently charged under the cybercrimes statute in the United Arab Emirates, but there were numerous delays, and Mr. Cassim was allowed to see a lawyer only about three times, each time with guards present.

In the meantime, the video has now racked up about 189,000 views.

“Essentially he was regarded as a threat to national security,” Ms. Burns said. “So the fact that they were saying the video was a threat and at the same time did not allow him to take it down left me speechless.”

“There is essentially no due process, and the country holds itself out as a modern society,” Ms. Burns said.

The case has set off a campaign to press the authorities into releasing Mr. Cassim, who had been working as a business consultant in Dubai since 2006. Local elected representatives weighed in, and the United State government was in direct contact with the Emirati authorities.

On Dec. 13, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said at a briefing in Washington that Mr. Cassim had been incarcerated for five months before he was notified of the charges, and that the United States had been expecting a verdict since Sept. 30 but there had been five delays.

News also spread online with the hashtag #freeshez, for Free Shezanne, using his nickname, on Twitter and on Facebook. A website was set up to post updates on his condition and to link to articles about his case, and even Will Ferrell and other American comedians recorded a video supporting him.

The arrests and subsequent trial have led to scorn and criticism for the United Arab Emirates, which portrays itself as a regional hub for finance, trade, and international cultural and sports events.

The verdict was criticized by human rights organizations. The Emirates Centre for Human Rights said in a statement that the defendants were charged under Article 28 of the cybercrimes law, which provides for jail and a fine of up to 1 million dirhams for anyone who uses information technology to publish caricatures that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order.”

But it pointed out that the law had been applied retroactively, as the video was posted on Oct. 10, 2012, while the cybercrimes law was believed to have been passed on Nov. 12th, 2012.

The human rights center said that in accordance with local regulations, time served would be taken into account and the men would be released once they had served three quarters of their sentence.

“Given that the filmmakers were arrested on April 7th, 2013, this means that the Emirati defendants should be released immediately and that Shezanne Cassim, along with the two Indian men, should be freed on January 8th, 2014, at midday,” the center said.

Rori Donaghy, the center’s director, shared reaction and developments on his Twitter account @roridonaghy86.

After the verdict, Mr. Cassim’s brother Shervon said in an interview with CNN that the family did not believe justice was served.

He said in the statement, in part:

This is so painful and unfair we can hardly believe it. It’s become apparent that the court has more knowledge of what is in the video â€" including the disclaimer that appears at the beginning of the video. So it’s obvious the intent and content of the video is not meant to cause harm. Yet, Shez is still in jail.

Shez is coming up on nine months incarceration for making a parody. This isn’t justice.

The Dubai International Film Festival just ended nine days ago. At that festival AMPAS announced that short films screened at that festival can be eligible for Oscar contention. Meanwhile, my brother is in jail for making a short film. It would be funny if we weren’t talking about a man’s life â€" and our family facing Christmas with Shez in jail.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Claire Davis, Colorado High School Shooting Victim, Dies

Claire Davis, the 17-year-old student at Arapahoe High School in Colorado who was shot in the face by a fellow student, has died, according to a statement from her family posted on the Facebook page of Littleton Adventist Hospital.

It is with unspeakable sadness that we write and say that Claire has passed away from the gunshot wound she received at Arapahoe High School on December 13, 2013. Although we have lost our precious daughter, we will always be grateful for the indelible journey she took us on over the last 17 yearsâ€"we were truly blessed to be Claire’s parents. The grace, laughter and light she brought to this world will not be extinguished by her death; to the contrary, it will only get stronger.

Last week was truly a paradox in that we lost our daughter, yet we witnessed the wonderful love that exists in the world through the tremendous outpouring of support we received. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the first responders, the school resource officer, security guard and vice principal at Arapahoe High School, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office, and the physicians, nurses and staff at Littleton Adventist Hospital. Each played a significant role in giving Claire a chance to live, and demonstrated extreme amounts of professionalism, courage and love. Please know that we will never forget the extraordinary work you did on Claire’s behalf.

We ask that you give us time to grieve the death of our daughter by respecting our wishes for privacy.

With much loving-kindness,
The Davis Family

Ms. Davis, who was a top student and a highly accomplished equestrian, was a random victim of Karl Halverson Pierson, as we previously reported. Mr. Pierson, 17, was looking for the school’s librarian and his former debate coach, who had disciplined him, when he shot Ms. Davis, who was near the school library.

After the death of Ms. Davis, the family of the gunman, Mr. Pierson issued a short statement: “We are heartbroken to hear of Claire’s passing. Our hearts ache for her family as they deal with unimaginable grief. Our prayers are with Claire’s family & the entire Arapahoe community.”

Mr. Pierson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the school.

Students continued over the weekend to add to a memorial outside the school for Ms. Davis as tributes to her spread.