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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 04, 2013 4:49 am

Russian officials hassle Pussy Riot play director

By MAX SEDDONAssociated Press

A Swiss theater director said Monday that Russian immigration officials, Cossacks, and several police officers barged into a Moscow theater in a bungled attempt to stop his play re-enacting the trial of punk band Pussy Riot.

Milo Rau said the officials interrupted the play at the Sakharov Center on Sunday and demanded to check his documents. They were soon followed by a group of irate Cossacks - people who claim to be descended from a once-feared Tsarist-era paramilitary group - who said they were offended by the play, and by several police officers.

The raid quickly petered out, however, when it turned out Rau's visa was in order. The warrant they used also had a wrong address on it, Rau said.

"My impression was that they had absolutely no plan - they just wanted to interrupt it and helplessly searched for a reason," Rau said Monday. "It was more Kafka than Stalin."

Russian news agencies on Sunday quoted senior officials from the Federal Migration Service as saying that the point of the raid was to warn Rau that he was not allowed to work in Russia on a business visa that he had. Officials, however, said that they were not planning to fine or prosecute the director.

Moscow police said in a statement late Sunday that police officers were at the Sakharov Center to ensure law and order but did not witness any disturbances.

Rau was directing a three-day reenactment of trials against Russian artists, including Pussy Riot, who staged an impromptu anti-Putin protest in Moscow's main cathedral last year.

Three band members were sentenced to two years in prison for "hooliganism." Their trial, which drew worldwide outrage and widespread condemnation from rights groups, did not allow their defense to call most of its witnesses and included medieval Orthodox Christian liturgical texts as evidence.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, a band member who was later released on appeal, participated in Sunday's re-enactment. A court on Monday rejected a plea of another band member, Maria Alekhina, who was appealing a January court decision which turned down her application to defer her sentence until her preschool-age son becomes a teenager.