News

Pussy Riot Members Detained in Sochi

by Jillian Steinhauer on February 18, 2014

A photo tweeted by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova shows Maria Alekhina in a police van in Sochi. (photo by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, via Twitter)

A photo tweeted by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova shows Maria Alekhina in a police van in Sochi. (photo by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, via Twitter)

Russian police arrested Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina earlier today in Sochi, the New York Times reports. The women, who were released from prison in December after being convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for performing an anti-Putin song, were detained and questioned along with seven other people, allegedly in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying.

The pair have been in the news quite a bit in recent weeks, particularly regarding the question of whether or not they are still technically members of Pussy Riot. A letter circulated by a group of anonymous Pussy Rioters denounced Tolokonnikova and Alekhina as no longer part of the collective, but the two responded in kind by denouncing the letter and its writers; “Pussy Riot can be anyone, and no one can [be] excluded from Pussy Riot,” they said.

In Sochi, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have been working under that aegis, donning Pussy Riot’s trademark colorful balaclavas upon their release from the police station and telling journalists that they’re in town to record a new song/action, “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland.” According to the Times:

The new song makes reference to more recent political developments including an effort by the Kremlin to pressure Dozhd, an independent television station, into shutting its operations.

“The air is closed for Dozhd,” the women sang, pumping their fists in the air and stopping traffic as they were surrounded by a swirl of journalists in a sleepy, residential neighborhood here near the police station. “The gay parade has been sent to the outhouse.”

NBC News TK Richard Engel tweeted this photo of Pussy Riot speaking to journalists after their release in Sochi. (photo by Richard Engel, via Twitter)

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel tweeted this photo of Pussy Riot members speaking to journalists after their release in Sochi. (photo by Richard Engel, via Twitter)

After police released the group in Sochi, Tolokonnikova told reporters that “People are following us. They track out [sic] every move and look for any excuse to detain us.” She also tweeted about their harassment by the police, writing, “On the 16th, we were detained for seven hours. On the 17th, we spent 10 hours with the F.S.B., and today we are in a police wagon, accused of theft” (translations by the Times).

According to the AP, Tolokonnikova also said that the police shoved her and other detainees, all of whom plan to file a complaint with Russia’s Investigative Committee. CNN cites Tolokonnikova’s husband, Petr Verzilov, as saying, “They were put to the floor and beaten and physical force was used to them when they refused to be questioned without the presence of their lawyer, who was on his way to the police department.”

President Putin originally tried to ban political protests and demonstrations in Sochi, but in January changed direction and decreed that they could take place — provided they’re held in a park in a village near (not in) Sochi and protesters receive permission from the government. There have been very few reported protests.

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