Pussy Riot Members Released From Custody in Sochi

Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova onstage at the Amnesty International Concert in Brooklyn, New York.

Monica Simoes

Meanwhile, a prison official is suing Tolokonnikova for libel; she stated that he "basically rules the prison"

Sochi police have released ex-Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who were detained earlier today and questioned about a robbery.

This wasn't the first time the two had been arrested since arriving in Sochi on Sunday. According to an insider in their camp who is currently with them in the Russian town, they were detained several times, up to 10 hours in one case.

"Freed!" was posted on the Twitter account of art group Voina, associated with Pussy Riot, along with a photo of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina exiting a police station wearing balaclavas.

"As a result of releasing Pussy Riot from the police station, the station itself and the surrounding neighborhoods and streets were occupied with people greeting us," Tolokonnikova said on her Twitter account. She added that cameramen, who accompanied the two former punk musicians to Sochi, were beaten up inside the station by officers of the Russian secret service FSB.

Seven other people who were detained alongside Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, including journalists, have also been released.

Police said no charges would be brought against the two women, who were released last December after serving almost two years for Pussy Riot's anti-Putin performance at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012.

More on Pussy Riot:

"The questioning with regards to a robbery at a hotel in Adler has been completed," a spokesman for local police was quoted as saying by the Russian wire service RIA Novosti. "We have nothing against them."

Tolokonnikova has a different take on events. "We were simply walking around Sochi when they grabbed us," Tolokonnikova said by phone from the police station during her detention. "They told us we are suspected of theft. Of course there has been no theft."

Meanwhile, Yuri Kupriyanov, an officer at the prison where Tolokonnikova was serving her sentence, is suing the activist for libel, the online newspaper Lenta.ru reported.

According to the report, Kupriyanov claims that Tolokonnikova's statements that he "basically rules the prison" and that he threatened to kill her are libelous and that he is going to demand $14,300 (500,000 rubles). He is also suing Lenta.ru, which published Tolokonnikova's statements. The hearing is scheduled for Apr. 2.

Russian journalist Evgeny Feldman, who was on the scene in Sochi with the band members, says the two women were arrested on suspicion of stealing from a hotel.

Tolonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, was quoted by Echo of Moscow radio news as saying that the women had initially been detained by an officer of the Russian Federal Security Border Service, a successor body to the KGB, and that local police then arrived.

The women were taken for questioning to a nearby police station. Seven other people were also detained, including Feldman himself, despite showing officers his journalistic credentials.

Echo of Moscow reports that they were also detained on Sunday and Monday.

The pair have been the target of political intimidation ever since arriving in Sochi, says Hunter Heaney from The Voice Project, a human rights organization that supports efforts where music is the agent of social change and has worked closely with the women, providing them with support and legal help, as well as safeguarding their wellbeing during their two-year imprisonment.

According to an insider in their camp who is currently with them in Sochi, they were detained several times, up to 10 hours in one case. 

“They were roughed up, accused of theft and had their faces bashed to the ground and eyeglasses broken," says Heaney, who is in close touch with the two women."

Pussy Riot leaving the police station in Sochi.Photo via: @gruppa_voina

Alexander Popkov, a lawyer for the women, confirmed the two women were “apprehended on Sunday, then on Monday they were detained again and questioned for several hours. And then today, for supposed theft from the hotel. Which is being investigated by 12 specialist investigators.”

The Pussy Riot pair were in Sochi to perform a song entitled "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland" and to film a music video.

Tolokonnikova said she and other members of Pussy Riot had been followed ever since they arrived in Sochi. They had not previously made their presence public, but began to live tweet their arrest on Tuesday, bringing a huge crowd of journalists to the police station in Adler, the town nearby Sochi, and even posting their phone number so journalists abroad could call to confirm the details of their arrest. 

The incident caused them to trend on social media Tuesday.

“While the media focuses on the pomp of the Olympics, Pussy Riot is shedding light on the true assault on human rights going on there,” says Heaney. “It’s outrageous how Putin treats any dissent. Freedom of expression is under attack in Russia, not to mention the infringement on the rights of the LGBT community. It seems as if the press has been able to compartmentalize the story. On the one hand, it reports LGBT rights are under attack. But most of the time, the focus is on the glory and beauty of the Olympics. If you turn a blind eye to injustice, then you’re complicit in it.”

The two have not stated when they plan to leave Sochi only that they intend to continue to call attention to civil liberty and human rights violations, stating that Putin has created a zone free of dissent. One fact that they claim is being ignored by Western media is that Russian citizens are required to obtain a passport to gain entry into the Olympic Village. Dissenters need not apply. 

“It’s reprehensible that the press is relegating their coverage of injustices in Russia to the sidelines,” says Heaney. “It’s being talked about it, but it’s being treated as a sidebar. Pussy Riot is there to remind everyone that it’s part of the main event.”

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print