Three members of the Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot went on trial on Monday for charges relating to their performance of a protest song in a Russian Orthodox church. The three women have been charged with "hooliganism" [RAPSI materials] for their performance of the song, which sparked public outrage after a video of the performance was posted online. Some have criticized the trial as being politically motivated, saying it is a strategy by Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] to discredit his opposition. Defense lawyers for the three women on Wednesday accused Russian authorities [Reuters report] of depriving the women of sleep and adequate nutrition. Additionally an ambulance was called during the trial on Wednesday after the women reported feeling ill.
Rights groups and political activists in Russia have expressed concern over other recently passed laws they say are aimed at restricting civil rights. On Monday Putin signed a bill into the law that re-criminalizes slander and libel [JURIST report] in the country. Last week, Putin signed [JURIST report] into law a bill that labels all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents" and requires them to register with the Justice Ministry. Opponents of this new law say that its purpose is to curb free speech [RFE/RL report] and limit information available to the public. Earlier this month, Russian politicians asked [JURIST report] the country's constitutional court to review a recently passed law that increases penalties against protesters who violate regulations. The State Duma also recently approved a bill regulating Internet use that some fear the government will use to oppress speech. In May Russia also for the first time convicted a gay rights activist [JURIST report] under a law prohibiting the spread of "homosexual propaganda" to minors, which caused concern from human rights groups.