Pussy Riot star Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was dealt a double blow on Friday (27Sep13) when officials threw out her bid to slash her jail sentence and refused her request to be transferred to another prison. The punk activist went on hunger strike earlier this week (beg23Sep13) after alleging she has been improperly treated by staff and accusing officials of using female inmates as "slave labour".
She was moved into an isolation unit at the prison colony in Mordovia, where she is serving her two-year sentence for hooliganism, and applied to be transferred to a different jail, but authorities refused the request on Friday. They accused Tolokonnikova of blackmail after her demands for a more comfortable cell were rejected.
Hours later, Tolokonnikova was given more bad news when officials threw out her bid for freedom by ruling her sentence should not be cut.
Tolokonnikova and two Pussy Riot bandmates - Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich - were jailed for two years in 2012 amid uproar over their protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow church.
Samutsevich was freed in October (12) when her sentence was commuted, and Alekhina will learn the outcome of her bid for early release next month (Oct13). If it is rejected, she and Tolokonnikova will not be eligible for release until March (14).
Officials at a Russian parents group are urging President Vladimir Putin to axe two upcoming Elton John shows over fears the rocker will violate a nationwide ban on "homosexual propaganda". In an open letter to the leader, the organisation's heads state, "The singer intends to come out in support of local sodomites and break the current Russian law, directed at protecting children."
Earlier this month (Sep13), Elton announced he would be ignoring calls for him to boycott Russia as a protest over the country's new anti-gay legislation - because he owed it to fans to perform.
He said, "As a gay man, I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don't know what's going to happen, but I've got to go."
John will perform in Moscow on 6 December (13) and in Kazan the following day.
Gay rights activists halted a performance of a Russian opera in New York City on Monday night (23Sep13) to protest in front of a star-studded opening night crowd which included Brooke Shields, Heather Graham and Diane Kruger. The Big Apple's Metropolitan Opera company launched the new season with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, but the show at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan was targeted by campaigners.
A picket line formed outside the Metropolitan Opera House, with activists protesting against anti-gay laws in Russia, and the demonstration continued inside the building when around 12 activists burst into the auditorium during the performance.
The group singled out Russian performer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev for particular criticism, shouting, "Anna, your silence is killing Russian gays! Valery, your silence is killing Russian gays!"
An opera-goer tells New York Post gossip column Page Six, "Eight to 12 protesters (started yelling from the balconies,) 'Down with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin' and, 'Free Russian gays!'... No one expected it. There was screaming and yelling coming from multiple balconies. People started booing... They stopped the opera and guards had to rush in."
The show restarted after the protesters were removed. No arrests were made.
Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, previously commented on plans to picket the company's opening night: "We respect the right of activists to picket our opening night and we realise that we've provided them with a platform to further raise awareness about serious human rights issues abroad."
Pussy Riot rocker Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has gone on hunger strike in protest against conditions at the Russian jail where she is serving her sentence. Tolokonnikova and two other members of the punk collective were imprisoned last year (12) for hooliganism, and she is due for release in March (14).
She has now accused bosses of the prison in Mordovia of exploiting the inmates for slave labour and has vowed to shun food until conditions are improved.
Tolokonnikova alleges she has been abused by inmates and jail staff, and claims prisoners are forced to work 17-hour days sewing police uniforms.
In a letter to her husband, Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova writes, "Beginning September 23, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labour. I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle...
"(During the working day) your hands are pierced with needles and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still you keep sewing."
Tolokonnikova was jailed for two years in August last year (12) along with bandmates Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina for performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at a church in Moscow. Samutsevich was freed in October (12) when her sentence was commuted.
French movie star Gerard Depardieu has been granted citizenship of a Belgian region. The Green Card star, who quit his homeland and renounced his passport last year (12) in an effort to escape a now-scrapped supertax on the rich, took up residency in Belgium months ago and now he has been made an honorary citizen of the area of Estampuis, which is just across the border from France.
Following Depardieu's French departure, he was granted Russian citizenship from president Vladimir Putin and has since collected another six passports, in a bid to become a "citizen of the world".
Announcing his latest citizenship on Wednesday (28AUg13), Estaimpuis municipal mayor Daniel Senesael told the actor, "We are glad you made your nest in (village) Nechin. Gerard, Estaimpuis loves you."
Depardieu celebrated by hosting a barbecue for villagers and then insisted his bid to quit France was all part of a big misunderstanding and he insisted he "still loves" his homeland, adding, "I live there regularly."
Reports suggest a Paris home he put on the market last year (12) is still up for sale.
Actress Kim Basinger has written a personal letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to release 18 whales from captivity. The L.A. Confidential star was celebrating earlier this month (Aug13) after winning her campaign to block plans to export beluga whales to an aquarium in Georgia, U.S.
Now she has taken her activism a step further by asking the Russian leader to free the marine mammals that were earmarked for export and are now in captivity.
In the note, sent via People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Basinger writes, "I was thrilled to learn that the 18 beluga whales who were slated to be transported from the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station to a U.S. aquarium will remain in Russia and out of my home state of Georgia.
"The whales would have had a bleak life if they had been shipped to Georgia for public display... As an ardent supporter of marine life, I commend you for your efforts to preserve this magnificent species. Now that these whales will not be transferred to the U.S., I urge you to take the next step and ensure that they are returned to their rightful ocean home...
"The plight of these whales has the whole world watching to see what will happen next. I urge you to help return these belugas to their families in the ocean. Will you take a strong unequivocal stand in favor of marine animals by initiating the rehabilitation-and-release process?"
Pussy Riot star Yekaterina Samutsevich is suing her former lawyer for $61,000 (£40,666) for posting comments about her online. Samutsevich, who was released from prison in October (12) when her two-year sentence was commuted, is demanding two million Russian roubles from Violetta Volkova after alleging she wrote unkind remarks about the punk protester on social networking websites.
Legal papers have been lodged on behalf of Samutsevich and the case is due to come before a court on 18 September (13), according to Russian newspaper Izvestia.
Samutsevich and her two Pussy Riot bandmates - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina - were each sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 over a protest against President Vladimir Putin at a church in Moscow.
Samutsevich was freed in October (12) when her sentence was commuted, but Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are both serving out their full sentences after their appeals were rejected last month (Jul13).
British actress Hayley Atwell led the cast of her London play in a gay rights protest during the opening night curtain call on Tuesday (13Aug13). The Captain America: The First Avenger actress and her co-stars held up placards emblazoned with the words 'To Russia, With Love' as they took their bows during The Pride's launch night at the Trafalgar Studios.
Atwell insists the play, which focuses on a gay love triangle, was the perfect vehicle to stage a protest against Russia's treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
She says, "We had this lovely relaxed gentle protest.. (The placards) say, 'To Russia, With Love.' We don't want to add to the hatred by saying something negative about (Russia's President Vladimir) Putin. But it does make an impact. It is a very heated time for the gay community. Doing this play, I realise how far we've come but how far we've got left. There are still horrendous statistics about homophobic attacks in this country."
Russia has hit headlines in recent days after British actor Stephen Fry wrote an open letter calling for the upcoming Winter Olympics in the country to be moved or boycotted over the gay rights issues.
British actor Stephen Fry has written an open letter to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to enforce a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Russia. The funnyman is concerned about gay rights issues in the country and believes the 2014 games in Sochi should be moved to another location to protect athletes and send a message of protest to Russian authorities over their treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
It is currently illegal to promote homosexuality in Russia, and Fry is convinced this goes against the spirit of the Olympics, so he has written to U.K. leader Cameron and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urging them to take action.
The letter, posted on Fry's official website, states, "It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their (Olympic) village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin (Russian president Vladimir Putin) has pushed through...
"Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural... An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world."
Fry goes on to compare Russian Winter Games to the controversial 1938 Berlin Olympics in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, adding, "I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler's anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian 'correctively' raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself."
Fry's letter proved so popular, his website crashed within minutes of the upload, while a number of fellow celebrities have thrown their support behind the actor.
Mia Farrow posted a link to Fry's letter on her Twitter.com page, along with the message, "Stage the Olympics elsewhere," while Billy Bragg and Matt Lucas have also backed Fry's campaign.
The Bloodhound Gang have been banned from a Russian music festival after one of the U.S. rockers desecrated the country's flag during a gig on Wednesday (31Jul13). The Bad Touch hitmakers were playing for fans in the city of Odessa when bassist Jared Hasselhoff stuffed the tricolour banner into his underwear and then pulled it out of the back of his pants.
He then threw the flag into the crowd and shouted, "Don't tell (President) Putin!"
Video footage of Hasselhoff's antics was posted on YouTube.com, and now Russia's Culture Minister has announced the band is no longer welcome at the Kubana festival in the Kuban region, which kicked off on Thursday (01Aug13) and runs until 7 August (13).
In a post on Twitter.com, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky writes, "I spoke to the Krasnodar region authorities. Bloodhound Gang is packing their suitcases. These idiots will not perform in Kuban."
The Prodigy, Guano Apes and Scooter are among the other acts in the Kubana line-up this year (13).