Pussy Riot members say arrested in central Sochi

The two members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot who were released from prison colonies late last year said they had both been arrested Tuesday in downtown Sochi during the Olympic Games.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina and at least half a dozen others were arrested in the centre of the Winter Games host city over accusations of theft from a local hotel.

The pair had already been in Sochi for some two days on a visit aimed at recording a new performance opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tolokonnikova wrote on her Twitter account that she and Alyokhina had been arrested, with several other people, on suspicion of theft and were piled into a police van.

“When we were arrested, we were not performing any kind of action, we were just walking around Sochi,” she wrote.

“In the arrest, force was used,” she added on her Twitter account @tolokno.

Her bandmate Alyokhina confirmed she had also been arrested.

They were picked up in central Sochi, some 30 kilometres north of the main Olympic venues.

Tolokonnikova said that she and Alyokhina had already been in Sochi for two days with the aim of performing a new song titled “Putin will teach you how to love the motherland.”

She said that before their arrest they had already managed to stage “some Olympic performances” without giving further details.

Tolokonnikova revealed that they had already been held and questioned by police for seven hours on Sunday and 10 hours on Monday.

They had both previously denounced the project spearheaded by Putin to host the Games and had called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics.

According to Tolokonnikova, another unnamed third member of Pussy Riot – named only as Tank – was also arrested.

Photographer Yevgeny Feldman who was arrested with them said on Twitter the allegations related to theft from a hotel.

But it was not clear why so many people had been arrested.

They were being taken in a police van to the police station in the Adler district which is closer to the Olympic venues.

Local environment group Ecological Watch on the Northern Caucasus (EWNC) said in a statement that Semyon Simonov of the Memorial rights group and local activist David Khakim had also been arrested.

Khakim had already been arrested for several hours on Monday after holding a one man picket to support Yevgeny Vitishko, an environmental activist jailed during the Games.

Kremlin opponents and activists ridiculed the arrests, saying they were an own goal that would ruin the image of the Sochi Games.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch in Moscow said that the “ludicrous detention…

will earn Russia more negative publicity than any public action they could organise.”

Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny added: “What kind of idiot do you have to be to arrest Pussy Riot in Sochi during the Olympics? No (PR) agency…

can help here.”

The two women were in 2012 convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison colonies after staging their so-called “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow but released early in December under a Kremlin-backed amnesty.

That stunt came just ahead of Putin’s re-election to the Kremlin in March 2012 and was aimed at denouncing the Orthodox Church’s support of the Russian strongman during the campaign.

Their jailing turned them from little-known feminist punks who staged a handful of guerrilla performances in Moscow to the stars of a global cause celebre symbolising the repression of civil dissent under Putin.

They have received support from luminaries ranging from Madonna to Yoko Ono to Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Earlier this month, the pair appeared at a star-studded concert in New York where they were cheered and feted by Madonna.

However other members of Pussy Riot – a collective more than a group – then said Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were no longer members as the concert was against Pussy Riot’s principles.

However Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina then insisted they had never left Pussy Riot. – AFP

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