Pussy Riot members arrested in central Sochi accused of robbery

Two members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot who were released from prison colonies late last year said they had both been arrested on Tuesday in downtown Sochi during the Olympic Games. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Two members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot who were released from prison colonies late last year said they had both been arrested on Tuesday in downtown Sochi during the Olympic Games. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

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

This is the first time that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina have been detained by police after their release in December on amnesty from their prison sentences for performing a song opposing President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow church.

“We have been arrested... and are accused of robbery,” Tolokonnikova wrote on her Twitter account.

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

Her bandmate Maria Alyokhina confirmed she had also been arrested. They were arrested in central Sochi, some 30 kilometres north of the main Olympic venues.

Tolokonnikova said that she and Alyokhina had already been in Sochi for over a day 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.

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

The radical art group Voina (War), which is run by Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilov, said that seven other people had been arrested as well as the Pussy Riot girls.

According to Tolokonnikova, another unnamed third member of Pussy Riot was also arrested.

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

The 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.

The stunt came just ahead of Mr 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 Mr Putin.

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