'Poisoned' Pussy Riot member Pyotr Verzilov flown to Germany for treatment

Leading anti-Kremlin activist’s symptoms allegedly include loss of sight and ability to speak

Maya Oppenheim
Sunday 16 September 2018 19:10 BST
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An official account for Pussy Riot posted a picture promising to 'punish those who poisoned Verzilov'
An official account for Pussy Riot posted a picture promising to 'punish those who poisoned Verzilov' (AP)

A member of Russian activist group Pussy Riot has been flown to Germany for specialist medical treatment after a suspected poisoning in Moscow.

Pyotr Verzilov reportedly fell ill after a court hearing on Tuesday and was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

The leading anti-Kremlin activist’s symptoms allegedly included losing his sight and ability to speak.

Maria Alyokhina, a fellow Pussy Riot member, told reporters Mr Verzilov managed to recover consciousness on Friday but has continued to be unwell.

She also said she thinks Mr Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, was poisoned for political reasons.

An official account for Pussy Riot – a feminist protest punk rock group based in Moscow that stages protests against the Russian government – posted a picture promising to “punish those who poisoned Verzilov”.

Footage has surfaced of Mr Verzilov, famed for taking part in a protest at the World Cup Final earlier this year, arriving in Berlin after being flown to see medics.

Images shared on Twitter by Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is also his ex-wife, show the 30-year-old arriving in Germany on Sunday where an ambulance was waiting for him.

His flight to Germany was reportedly organised by the Cinema for Peace Foundation, whose founder has supported Pussy Riot in the past.

The chartered plane is said to have arrived at Berlin Schonefeld airport at about 10.45pm local time (8.45pm GMT) on Saturday night.

German tabloid Bild shared footage and photos appearing to show Mr Verzilov being helped while on the plane, and being carried on a stretcher.

Ms Tolokonnikova, who was also captured welcoming him at the airport, told the paper she thought he had been “deliberately poisoned” for either “intimidation or even an assassination attempt”.

Last week, Veronika Nikulshina, another Pussy Riot member, told Russian website Meduza her bandmate started to feel unwell shortly after a court hearing.

Mr Verzilov, Ms Nikulshina and two other members of Pussy Riot were ordered to serve 15 days in prison for running on to the pitch wearing police uniforms in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials during the World Cup final in Moscow in July.

They were demonstrating against what they described as the excessive powers of Russia’s police.

Ms Nikulshina told Meduza that as Mr Verzilov became unwell he began “convulsing” and “babbling” before falling into a “half-asleep, half-unconscious state”.

Earlier this week, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said the situation was a “concern, obviously, given actions of recent months by the Russians in the UK” – referring to the poisoning of a Russian former spy and others in Salisbury.

There has been no official statement on the cause of Mr Verzilov’s illness so far.

Pussy Riot rose to fame in 2012 when its members were imprisoned for staging a protest against Mr Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow.

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