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Olympics-Pussy Riot members detained by police in Sochi

Source: Reuters - Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:20 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Pussy Riot protest band members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were detained on Tuesday in connection with a theft in the Winter Olympics host city of Sochi, less than two months after their release from prison under an amnesty.

The pair were held for around three hours at a police station in the Adler district of Sochi, before appearing with other women on the steps outside wearing summer dresses, coloured leggings and their trademark balaclava masks.

Some punched the air in triumph and sang songs as they left the building, where they were greeted by dozens of reporters.

The women were in Sochi with other members of Pussy Riot to record a musical film called "Putin will teach you to love the motherland".

Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, hoping they would show the world Russia's modern face more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Alyokhina, 25, said they and others detained with them were questioned without lawyers present, and Tolokonnikova said that police had used violence during questioning inside the police station.

"They dragged me across the floor of the police station assembly hall office by my face, they twisted my arms and threw me to the floor. Putin will teach you to love the motherland!" the 24-year-old said on her Twitter microblog.

Sochi police, who had told Russian agency Interfax that the women were being questioned in relation to a theft in the hotel where they were staying, said they had no further claims against them.

"The questioning in regard to the theft has been completed, we have no claims against those questioned," police told state-owned agency RIA.

OLYMPIC PARK

Lawyer Alexander Popkov told reporters gathered outside the station that some 30 to 40 officers had arrested 12-15 people.

He named Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova as among the detainees.

"They have been held over an alleged theft at a hotel," Popkov said. "They (the authorities) have refused to fully explain the reason for the detention."

Yevgeny Feldman, photographer for Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was in Sochi to photograph a demonstration and was detained along with the Pussy Riot members.

Feldman said the group had been walking down a street near the sea shore and were a long way from the Olympic Park when they were detained.

The photographer was interviewed as a possible witness to a theft in a hotel before being let go, he said, adding that he had not seen the other detainees "for a while".

"At the time of our detention, we weren't engaged in any protests, we were walking around Sochi. WE WERE WALKING," Tolokonnikova said on Twitter.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were released from prison on Dec. 23 under an amnesty that Tolokonnikova said was a stunt by Putin to improve Russia's image before the Olympics. They recently returned to Russia after a tour through Europe and the United States.

DISPROPORTIONATE SENTENCES

The pair had been serving two-year jail terms for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after performing a profanity-laced protest song against Putin in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012.

Western governments said the sentences were disproportionate, and Kremlin critics called the trial part of a clampdown on dissent during Putin's third presidential term.

Tolokonnikova said she and Alyokhina had also been detained for seven hours on Sunday and for 10 hours on Monday, though their presence in Sochi had not been advertised. "Now we are riding around in a police van accused of theft," she wrote.

A lawyer for the women, Irina Khrunova, said police had detained a large group on a Sochi street including accredited journalists, but said she did not know why they had been detained.

"In Russia it happens that they just do that," she said when asked why they had been arrested.

"No one identified concrete charges. Right now, there is a lawyer there trying to find out."

Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said the group members had been detained at an office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Monday on the border with the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, which borders Sochi.

The Winter Olympics closing ceremony is on Feb.23. (Additional reporting by Ian Bateson and Ludmila Danilova in Moscow; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Steve Gutterman, Elizabeth Piper and Ossian Shine)

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