Russia was right to jail feminist activists for exercising their right to free speech by staging an anti-government protest, according to two House Republicans on a junket to the former Soviet Union.
Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Steve King (R-IA), along with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), were visiting Moscow on Sunday to discuss Russian intelligence on the Boston Marathon bombing. During a press conference, Cohen raised questions about Russia’s respect for human rights, particularly with respect to Pussy Riot, the feminist band jailed for playing a “punk prayer” in a Russian Orthodox church to protest the Putin government’s human rights record and the church’s close ties with the state. Cohen, echoing human rights advocates, argued that a two-year sentence for speaking out against government abuses was an overharsh result of an unfair trial.
Rohrabacher disagreed, but King went further. King, who recently attempted to “prove” America was a Christian nation, celebrated Russia’s crackdown. “If anyone came into my church … and did that, it would be difficult for me to stand up and say they had a human right to do that,” King said. The lawmaker suggested that the church “had been desecrated by those riots,” perhaps being unaware that Pussy Riot is the name of the band, not the activity they were jailed for (which was performing a song).
Rohrabacher and King’s comments come amid warnings from human rights advocates that in the past year since Vladimir Putin retook the Presidency, “the Russian government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history.” This attack on civil liberties includes a series of laws attempting to silence press criticism of the government as well as the right to political protest.
The two Congressmen also dismissed human rights criticisms of Russia’s counterterrorism policy. Rohrabacher, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, added that “because people are accused of things, and guilty of things, it doesn’t mean you don’t talk to them.” According to King, “We are at war against radical Islamic terrorists,” so “anyone who eliminates our enemies, that saves lives.”
Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed during Russian campaigns against Chechen separatists and Islamist terrorist groups that often didn’t discriminate between military and civilian targets. Most notoriously, Russian special forces fired on a school full of hostages in Beslan, North Ossetia in a fashion that many believe led directly to the deaths of hundreds of children and teachers.
An earlier version of the post mistakenly identified Beslan as being in Chechnya rather than North Ossetia.