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Pussy Riot detained (and released) in Sochi

Masked members of Pussy Riot leave a police station in Adler during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 18 February 2014.
Masked members of Pussy Riot leave a police station in Adler during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 18 February 2014.

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Tanya Lokshina

Now that the Sochi Olympics are in progress, I spend hours every day interviewing local activists who are being harassed and detained for their criticism of the Games. Today, I was on the phone with one of them discussing her detention last night , when a Skype message popped on my computer screen, “Tanya, did Pussy Riot really get arrested in Sochi just now?” For a moment, I thought it was a bad joke – but 10 minutes and two phone calls later, the picture was absurdly clear.

This afternoon, at around two p.m., police in central Sochi detained Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, famous worldwide for their political stunt in Russia's largest cathedral, which resulted in their almost two-year imprisonment on ludicrous criminal charges. The detention looked more like a raid, with dozens of law enforcement officials involved. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were taken into custody along with another eight activists and journalists who accompanied them in Sochi. Among the others was Semyon Simonov, the Sochi representative for the Migration and Law Network, who has for the past few years worked to protect the rights of migrant workers toiling on Olympics-related construction sites.

When they asked why they were being detained, the police told them it was on suspicion of involvement in a theft from the hotel where Tolokonnikova and Alekhina had stayed the night before. So a dozen of people, two of them international celebrities in town for a few days, involved in a trivial hotel theft during the Olympics – sounds like a very convincing accusation, does it not?

Apparently, it sounded credible enough to the Sochi police. Credible enough to drag Tolokonnikova across the floor at the police precinct.

In fact, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have only been in Sochi for two days – and this is already their third detention. First, they were stopped by police on the way from the airport yesterday, supposedly for an identity check and held for several hours. Then, yesterday, border guards stopped them on the road and held them for several hours for allegedly crossing into a border zone that was not marked. When they offered to show the border guards that there was no sign, the latter insisted that they broke Olympic border regulations and had to be taken to a checkpoint. And today, the height of official creativity, these allegations linking Pussy Riot to theft. After just a little over three hours, Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and their companions were all released from custody without charge.

Pussy Riot came to Sochi to record a new song, “Putin will teach you how to love your Motherland”, and they had wanted to organize a public action around it. It looks like the authorities are keeping them busy enough to make sure that no such thing happens. But this absurd detention will certainly hurt Russia's image more than any performance the two women could have possibly pulled off in Sochi.

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