Pussy Riot slam ‘hypocrisy of Russia's World Cup celebrations’ as political activists languish in jail

Exclusive: 'The celebration of the World Cup is happening at the same time as tortures in police stations and tortures in prison', Maria Alyokhina tells The Independent 

Maya Oppenheim@mayaoppenheim
Wednesday 18 July 2018 11:12
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Pitch invaders interrupt play in World Cup final clash between France and Croatia

One of the most high profile members of the Pussy Riot activist group has praised her associates who stormed the pitch at the World Cup final and said it was “hypocritical” for the country to indulge in extravagant celebrations while people are tortured in prison.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Maria Alyokhina said she was "proud" of her cohorts, four of whom were jailed for 15 days for disrupting the second half of the match between France and Croatia after they ran onto the pitch at the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium wearing police uniforms. Play was briefly suspended.

The 30-year-old, who was not involved in the protest herself, said she thought they were "trying to show the hypocrisy" Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime "because the celebration of the World Cup is happening at the same time as tortures in police stations and tortures in prison."

She added: "It is our responsibility to raise attention to these topics."

Ms Alyokhina, who was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in 2012 for being convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after a controversial performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, said she was "proud" of their action.

"I am proud of my friends," she said. "I think it’s really important to raise attention to the case of political prisoners, the police violence, criminal cases that are happening because of political reasons, and the isolation of Russia regarding the state politics of Vladimir Putin.”

In a separate statement Pussy Riot said it was a protest against human rights abuses in Russia. They called for the release of political prisoners, the end of illegal detentions at political rallies, halting people’s political views on social media being policed, and for more open political competition.

There are 155 political and religious prisoners in Russia, according to its leading human rights organisation, Memorial.

Pussy Riot members including Maria Alyokhina (above) were jailed for two years in 2012

Ms Alyokhina was recognised as one by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, while Amnesty International named her a prisoner of conscience due to “the severity of the response of the Russian authorities.

Alexander Cheparukhin, who is also involved with the Pussy Riot collective, told The Independent he was not surprised the activists had been sentenced to 15 days in jail.

He challenged the view that the protesters faced unusually “lenient” penalties for their actions due to all eyes being on Russia.

Calling the 15 day sentence "kind of predictable", he said: "It’s not small. It’s not large. Fifteen days is the most common administrative punishment. You would get 15 days for being drunk and smashing someone’s face."

Mr Cheparukhin, who is musical producer of Pussy Riot’s Riot Days show which is based on Ms Alyokhina’s book of the same name, drew attention to the fact it was not a criminal case. Instead, he described it as an “administrative violation”.

He said: “I do not think anyone in the Kremlin wants another prison sentence for Pussy Riot. When Pussy Riot got two years in prison, it was to make an example of them and stop others from doing it. They accused them of something they did not do - they accused them of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

He added: “I think the actions of Pussy Riot at the World Cup were brave and political but I don’t think the punishment was political. That’s my personal opinion. Someone else might think every case is discussed by Putin but I don’t like conspiracy.”

Commending the “inventiveness” of the members who managed to invade the pitch, he claimed they used real police uniforms to deceive people into thinking they were genuine officers.

“I don’t know how they managed to get into a high-security stadium where Putin and Macron and other Russian leaders were watching football. It’s incredible that they did it,” he said. “It was a bright, exciting action.”

Some of the four protesters managed to exchange high fives with French players before being dragged off by security while Mr Putin watched from the VIP box.

The male pitch invader was grabbed in anger by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren.

"I just lost my head and I grabbed the guy and I wished I could throw him away from the stadium," the footballer told reporters after the game.

He was later identified as Pyotr Verzilov, husband of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the three Pussy Riot members imprisoned in 2012.

The three women pitch invaders were named as Nika Nikulshina, Olga Kurachyova and Olga Pakhtusova.

Pussy Riot previously tweeted that the four protestors arrested on Sunday spent the entirety of the night at a police station in substantial discomfort.

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