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Two members of punk group Pussy Riot released after being detained in Sochi

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Russian punk group Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in the blue balaclava, and Maria Alekhina, in the pink balaclava, make their way through a crowd after they were released from a police station, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Adler, Russia. No charges were filed against Tolokonnikova and Alekhina along with the three others who were detained. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Russian punk group Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in the blue balaclava, and Maria Alekhina, in the pink balaclava, make their way through a crowd after they were released from a police station, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Adler, Russia. No charges were filed against Tolokonnikova and Alekhina along with the three others who were detained. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Updated: 2:20 p.m. EST.

SOCHI, Russia — Russian punk group Pussy Riot burst onto the Olympic scene Tuesday when two of its members were picked up by police in host city Sochi — and then ran away defiant down a rain-soaked street a few hours later, shouting and wearing their trademark garish balaclavas.

The police questioning of Russia’s most recognizable punk rockers, along with detentions of gay rights and other activists in recent days, brought political tensions to the fore at Vladimir Putin’s showcase Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, along with seven others, were held by police near Sochi’s ferry terminal, a popular area for fans celebrating the Olympics. Police said they were questioned in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying. No charges were filed.

“Putin will teach you how to love the motherland!” the women chanted on leaving the police station, their fists in the air and blue, pink and orange ski masks concealing their faces.

Pussy Riot gained international attention in 2012 after barging into Moscow’s main cathedral and performing a “punk prayer” in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin, who was on the verge of returning to the Russian presidency for a third term.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were sentenced to two years in prison, but were released in December under an amnesty bill seen as a Kremlin effort to assuage critics of its human rights record before the Olympics. Both women called for the boycott of the Sochi Games.

Tolokonnikova said Tuesday’s detention followed three days of police harassment. She also said the two band members were detained for several hours the previous two days.

“We members of Pussy Riot have been here since late Sunday and we were constantly detained since then,” Tolokonnikova said after her release. “We are constantly surrounded by people, not you journalists, but people who are shadowing us, following our every move and looking for any excuse to detain us.”

Pussy Riot, a performance-art collective involving a loose membership of feminists who edit their actions into music videos, has become an international flashpoint for those who contend Putin’s government has exceeded its authority in dealing with an array of issues, notably human and gay rights.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Pyotr Verzilov, and other people who were detained on Tuesday insisted that Pussy Riot were not protesting or demonstrating when they were taken off the street. But Tolokonnikova said the band is in Sochi with “the goal of staging a Pussy Riot protest.”

It was not immediately clear whether Pussy Riot would be staying in Sochi or whether they would be protesting in the coming days.

Yevgeny Feldman, a photographer who has been shadowing Pussy Riot for the past two days and was detained with them Tuesday afternoon, said the band members were filming videos around town for a new song.

Tolokonnikova also said police had shoved her and other detainees and that the group would file a complaint about their treatment to Russia’s Investigative Committee.

The area where the group members were detained is in downtown Sochi, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the seaside Olympic venues.

Russia has put severe limitations on protests in Sochi during the Olympics, ordering that any demonstration must get approval and be held only in the neighborhood of Khosta, an area between Adler and downtown Sochi that is unlikely to be visited by outsiders.

Russia’s suppression of protests has been widely denounced in the West and the Pussy Riot detentions brought renewed criticism.

“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, Europe director for Amnesty International, said in a statement.

The actions taken against Pussy Riot came a day after an Italian transgender activist and former lawmaker was detained at the Olympics. Vladimir Luxuria was stopped while carrying a rainbow flag that read in Russian: “Gay is OK.” On Sunday, Luxuria said she was held by police and told not to wear clothing with slogans promoting gay rights.

Environmental activists and members of an ethnic minority native to the Sochi region have also been detained in recent days and weeks.

Since their release in December, the 24-year-old Tolokonnikova and the 25-year-old Alekhina have taken on a more serious demeanor and made many appearances overseas to push their campaign for improved conditions in Russia’s prisons.

Until Tuesday, there had been no indication they would resume the fist-and-chant protests they got famous for.

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29 more reader comments:

  1. We need to use that giant death star laser Ronald Regan threatened those russians with…That’ll teach the bastards.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 4:26pm
  2. FuCkked Upp!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 4:41pm
  3. Worst name ever for a band.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 4:51pm
  4. its an all lesbian band its a great name the only name better i think would be the bush whackers

    Replied on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 6:31pm
  5. Not an all lesbian band. They're actually a Russian feminist punk rock band, though some may be gay. Either way, it's a great name.

    Replied on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 4:20am
  6. No accounting for taste I guess

    Replied on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 10:42am
  7. Old news bur good news

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 5:33pm
  8. Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 5:49pm
  9. yay!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 7:36pm
  10. At least they’re free. :( They REALLY need to get out of that hellhole, though.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 7:40pm
  11. Since I actually know about the band and understand what they are doing. They are not lesbian. They put on an act as a form of protest. They stay in Russia so they can actively make a statement about how corrupt it is and getting arrested is nothing to them. The band is called pussy riot(in English regardless of country) because it’s meant to be a protest in itself

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 8:01pm
  12. Come to America leave that Soviet Union behind.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 8:17pm
  13. That name is so foul

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 8:46pm
  14. They should be jailed until they change the band’s name

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 8:47pm
  15. you should be jailed and sterilyzed to prevent you contaminating the gene pool any further

    Replied on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 11:57pm
  16. Oh my, have you looked in the mirror, John? That is one ugly fucking face! Holy shit!

    Replied on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 12:00am
  17. I mean, WOW. How does someone become so scary looking??

    Replied on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 12:01am
  18. What's with the asinine comments about the band, as in the way they look and their name?! Y'all are part of the problem!

    Replied on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 4:23am
  19. Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 9:18pm
  20. More power to them and they are not lesbians, but who cares. They are fighting for women’s rights

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 10:25pm
  21. Their masks are so ugly!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 11:26pm
  22. ahhh

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 3:44am
  23. I thought this happened weeks ago

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 3:53am
  24. Great! They are released.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 4:25am
  25. QAQ CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?! You’re tearing this family apart!
    /shot
    But seriously fighting about the bands name is so counterproductive. D: It’s their band, they can name it whatever they want.
    As for them getting arrested…. It kind of feels like they’re being targeted, now, doesn’t it?

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 5:49am
  26. Riot grrrlz

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 6:12am
  27. Russia s anti protest and anti gay laws are discusting Some of the things they are doing to there people are crimes against humanity racism sexism and religiousl persocution Are the sparks of revolution and the overly religiouse racist sexist monsters are fanning the flame s There bigoted way s will be there downfall there people are angry and equality for all or none at all

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 8:01am
  28. punx rock

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 9:01am
  29. I am gay and proud and this is a serious question because I may have missed something. If they are a band and they are known why are they covering their faces? It’s an honest question.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 10:47am