Pussy Riot band members released after being detained in Sochi

11:07 AM, Feb 18, 2014   |    comments
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Members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot leave the Adler police station after being detained. (Photo: Elena Vlasova, USA TODAY Sports)

 

 

 

SOCHI (USA TODAY) -- 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."

The 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."

Q: Get the latest updates from Sochi

OLYMPICS: Full coverage of the Games

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.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Tolokonnikova said by telephone that she and Alyokhina were told they were being held in relation to an alleged theft at their hotel.

"We, Maria Alyokhina and the anonymous members of Pussy Riot, came to Sochi to organize a protest and express our political views but at the time of our detention [by the local police] we were just taking a stroll minding our own business when we got picked up by the police and shoved into a police van," Ms. Tolokonnikova said. "We've been detained like anybody who's made an attempt to criticize authorities during the Olympics. Authorities treat local guests and athletes nicely but not those who are attempting to organize a protest."

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.

TIMELINE: From protest to prison

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.

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.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the organization does not tolerate demonstrations within the venues "whether we are sympathetic or not."'

"I understand she was in the park for a good hour, maybe two hours walking around talking to spectators and people," Adams said. "Some people were pro, some people were against, some people were very against, but I know her stated aim was to demonstrate in the venue. I believe after a couple hours when she finally got to the venue she was escorted from there peacefully, not detained and even herself tweeted that it had all been very polite."

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