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Two Pussy Riot Members Detained in Sochi After Putin Amnesty

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Pussy Riot Members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, left, and Maria Alekhina, of Russian all-female punk group Pussy Riot arrive for the Cinema for Peace gala in Berlin, on Feb. 10. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are among residents of a hotel outside Sochi who are being questioned in connection with a reported theft in the building, Interfax reported, citing police in the city. Photographer: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Russian police in Sochi detained for several hours two members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot who were freed from prison in December under an amnesty by President Vladimir Putin.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were taken into custody along with other activists today, were “harshly detained” by police as suspects in a hotel theft, their lawyer Alexander Popkov said by telephone. They were released later after being cleared during questioning, state news service RIA Novosti reported, citing Sochi police.

Tolokonnikova announced her arrest in a Twitter Inc. posting that showed a photograph from inside a police vehicle transporting them. She said they were in Sochi, the Black Sea resort that’s playing host to the Winter Olympics until Feb. 23, to carry out a Pussy Riot protest act entitled “Putin will teach you how to love your motherland.”

A Moscow court sentenced Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and a third performer, Ekaterina Samutsevich, for inciting religious hatred and hooliganism in August 2012 after performing a “punk prayer” seeking the Russian leader’s ouster at Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral in February of that year. Russia has spent a record $44 billion on hosting the Winter Games for the first time, an event Putin has used to showcase his country.

Hotel Theft

Sochi police spokesman Anatoly Lastovetsky said he didn’t have any immediate information about the detentions. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are among residents of a hotel outside Sochi questioned in connection with a reported theft in the building, Interfax reported, citing police in the city.

“In Putin’s Russia, the authorities have turned the Olympic rings, a worldwide symbol of hope and striving for the best of the human spirit, into handcuffs to shackle freedom of expression,” John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asian program, said by e-mail. Amnesty reported the arrests in Sochi of nine activists and journalists, including Alekhina and Tolokonnikova.

Tolokonnikova believes “the real reason for their ongoing harassment was their plan to film a music video” for their new anti-Putin protest act, the London-based rights group said.

Five Performers

Of the five Pussy Riot members involved in the performance on Feb. 21, 2012, Samutsevich was released on a suspended sentence, while two other people were never identified and remain at large.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina complained in Twitter postings of being manhandled by Sochi police and questioned without a lawyer present.

Last month, Putin scrapped a total ban on protests during the Olympics, amending an August decree to allow demonstrations with police permission. The authorities have set aside a special venue for protests in Sochi.

“They were here three days, and every day they were detained,” lawyer Popkov said of Alekhina and Tolokonnikova. The first two days it was nothing serious, “but today it was harsh.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Anton Doroshev in Moscow at adoroshev@bloomberg.net; Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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