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Russian Punk Band Supporters Fight New York State Law Banning Masks In Public

A woman named Anna rallies in Times Square in support of the group Pussy Riot August 17, 2012. (credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/GettyImages)

A woman named Anna rallies in Times Square in support of the group Pussy Riot August 17, 2012. (credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/GettyImages)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Three women who were arrested in a protest supporting the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have launched an attempt to overturn a New York state law forbidding wearing masks in public.

The women were among a group of protesters who were arrested back in August outside the Russian Consulate at 9 E. 91st St. on the Upper East Side, CBS 2 reported.

They were charged with disorderly conduct and violating a state law that dates back to 1845, which forbids three or more people from wearing masks in public.

Their attorney, Norman Siegel, told the New York Times this week he believes the law is unconstitutional, and plans to fight it on the grounds that it violates freedom of expression. While protesters have worn masks to conceal their identities in other instances, in this case they were wearing the masks to show solidarity with the arrested punk band members, Siegel told the New York Times.

The ban was adopted in response to the Hudson Valley, in which tenant farmers dressed up as American Indians and killed their landlords, the newspaper reported. The law makes exceptions for such events as masquerade parties, the New York Times reported.

One of the protesters defended her choice to wear a mask when she was arrested.

“The mask is a form of free speech,” Rebecca Schiller said after the August protest. She added that she was seeking to emulate the members of Pussy Riot, the punk music group that briefly took over Moscow’s main cathedral in a prayer for deliverance from Putin. “I can show solidarity with that band.”

While the anti-mask law may be a seen as a relic of a past area, the Pussy Riot solidarity protest was not the first time it was enforced in recent years. Back in September 2011, during the earliest days of the Occupy Wall Street protest, five people were arrested and charged with violating the masked gathering ban for wearing bandanas, according to a Village Voice account at the time.

The protests supporting Pussy Riot this past summer were sparked when a Moscow judge sentenced three members of the band to two years in prison on charges of hooliganism.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23; Maria Alekhina, 24; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a “punk prayer” pleading the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was elected to a third new term as Russia’s president two weeks later.

Following the ruling, about 40 protesters stood outside the Russian consulate in New York wearing masks, and holding banners that read: “We are all hooligans.”

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