Band members released after being detained in Sochi

SOCHI — Two members of the punk band Pussy Riot have been released by police, about three hours after they were detained and questioned about a theft at a Sochi hotel.

Nadezha Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and three others walked out of the police station chanting a song about Putin and wearing neon balaclavas in pink, blue, green and yellow. They were quickly engulfed by journalists waiting outside the police station in Adler.

The five quickly ran away on foot, followed by the press, cars honking, creating a chaotic scene.

"It is clear that in Russia activists are treated like terorrists," said one of the five, who was wearing a pink balaclava. "Inside we were beaten because we didn't want to say anything without our lawyer. In Russia there's no law.

"We were stopped in our hotel, told that somebody had stolen some money, but they detained us for being activists. We did not protest, but they said we planned to."

Upon her release Tolokonnikova tweeted: "Putin will teach you to love the motherland. That's what makes the Olympics."

Her husband, Petr Verzilov, was also among those who were detained and then released.

The Pussy Riot duo later went to an emergency room, where they tweeted: "Bruises and abrasions with disdain recorded."

One of the five in balaclavas said they have been followed by police, FSB, even frontier guards. "We are always walking surrounded by some people following us, watching every step," she said. "We first were brought as if to check our IDs even though according to Russian law it should be a suspicion of an administrative contempt, suspicion of criminal infraction or preliminary trial."

The Pussy Riot duo first were detained Tuesday afternoon while walking through downtown Sochi.

The town of Sochi is just 20 miles from the main Olympic venues.

Attorney Alexander Popkov, who represents the two Pussy Riot band members, told USA TODAY Sports that the duo were beaten by police before his arrival at the station.

Tweeted Tolokonnikova, via a translation: "Lawyer came, the police became more affectionate."

She, Alyokhina and about 13 others were being questioned by police about a theft at the Malakhit Hotel in Sochi, where they were staying.

"Social media has given them (Pussy Riot) the ability to express themselves. Social media exploded," said Yelena Goltsman, founder and co-president of RUSA LGBT a New York City-based group for Russian-speaking Americans, of Tuesday's events.

Goltsman said she was not surprised that protests have been minimal until now.

"I am not surprised. This is not Russia," she said. "This is a city that is made up. It was leveled, then created into theme park. The city is surrounded by blockades."

Tolokonnikova sent a series of tweets detailing the duo's activities and revealed that they also had been detained for about seven hours on Sunday and 10 hours on Monday, when they were held by the FSB, the Federal Security Service.

Tolokonnikova said she and Alyokhina were in Sochi to carry out a Pussy Riot action _ the song "Putin will teach you to love the motherland."

She said the song is dedicated to the corrupt Olympics, ecologist Yevgeny Vitishko and suppressed freedoms in Russia. Vitishko wrote a report by the Echo Watch North Caucasus group about environmental damage caused by Olympic construction. He was arrested in early February and charged with swearing in public.

Tolokonnikova's first tweet, sent at 2:50 p.m. local time, revealed they had been detained near the seaport of Sochi on suspicion of felony. In following tweets, Tolokonnikova accused the police of using force during the arrest and wrote that at the moment of detention they had not carried out their action but rather were walking, emphasizing the walking.

About 90 minutes after tweeting that she had been detained, Tolokonnikova tweeted that she was forced to testify without a lawyer.

The 24-year-old Tolokonnikova and 25-year-old Alyokhina were released Dec. 23 following a 21-month imprisonment for a protest performance in a Moscow cathedral that led to charges of hooliganism and blasphemy.

The band's third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on suspended sentence shortly after all three women were found guilty of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison in August 2012.

Appearing at an Amnesty International concert in Brooklyn in early February, Tolokonnikova called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, ranging from not attending the event to giving it no media coverage.

"We want Americans to keep their eyes open," she said through an interpreter, "and not buy whole what (Vladimir) Putin is trying to sell them."

Asked where they intended to go after being released, Alyokhina, said they would go back to Russia: "It is our country, and we want to make it a free country."

During the games, Russian officials have designated an official "protest zone," roughly seven miles from any Olympic venues. Anyone who wanted to voice his dissent over anti-gay laws, the treatment of migrant workers who constructed the Olympic venues or environmental concerns would be free to do it in the protest area.

Officials designated "Khosta" as the protest area, which has been ignored for the early part of the Games.

Protests outside the zone have begun to grow.

On Monday, a well-known Italian activist for transgender rights was escorted out of Olympic Park after attempting to enter one of the hockey venues.

Related Story: Gay-rights activist detained at Olympic Park

Vladimir Luxuria, a former member of the Italian parliament, was in the park for more than an hour Monday wearing a rainbow-colored outfit and yelling "It's OK to be gay," according to the Associated Press.

Luxuria told AP she was not detained, but her Olympic spectator pass was taken away and she was released after being driven away from the park.

On the day of the opening ceremony, Anastasia Smirnova and three other Russian LGBT activists were arrested in St. Petersburg after they attempted to photograph themselves with a banner that read: "Any form of discrimination is incompatible with the Olympics."

At Monday's court hearing, the four were found guilty of organizing a non-authorized demonstration. They were not fined, but the arrest is on their permanent record. Smirnova, 27, is appealing the decision.

Smirnova, who's coordinating Russia's LGBT advocacy efforts around the Olympics, maintains there's been harsher measures opposed on the LGBT community throughout the Games, plus more detentions and refusals to grant demonstration permits.

"It's obvious what they're doing. We have a proverb 'Don't let the mess out of the house,' that's what they're doing to prevent expression of opinions," she said.

As for Tuesday's incident with Pussy Riot, Smirnova was surprised the two members were able to get close to the Olympics, given how closely human-rights activists are monitored.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment