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Former Pussy Riot Members Among Activists Arrested, Released at Sochi

Plans for anti-Putin song were underway, but activists 'just walking around' when nabbed by police

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Update: Activists earlier detained by Russian police in Sochi have been released, without charges, after being questioned and held for several hours.

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) According to AP:

Police said they were questioned in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying. No charges were filed.

Tolokonnikova said the 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."

Earlier:

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, two prominent yet former members of the punk rock activist band Pussy Riot, were arrested in the city of Sochi on Tuesday along with other activists who had traveled to the site of the Olympic Games.

Authorities have said they are being held on accusations of theft, but Tolokonnikova told a journalist by phone from the jail that, "Of course there has been no theft."

"We were just walking around Sochi when they grabbed us," she said, though indicated the group may have been planning a political action.

As CNN reports:

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, who are highly critical of President Vladimir Putin, went to Sochi to protest against the lack freedom of speech in Russia.

The former band members were thrown in jail for nearly two years after they were convicted of "hooliganism" and inciting religious hatred for performing a riotous punk song slamming Putin in a Moscow Cathedral -- and posting a video of it online.

And the Guardian adds:

Semyon Simonov, a local human rights activist who was also detained along with the group, said that they had been accosted by police while walking along the street, and roughly bundled into a police van.

"They told us that we were suspected of a theft," said Simonov from the police station where he was waiting to be questioned. He said no official charges had been made, but that the police told them the hotel where the Pussy Riot women are staying had reported them for theft.

Simonov said ten people had been arrested, including David Khakim, who was on Monday sentenced to 30 hours of community service by a Sochi court for holding a one-man protest in support of Evgeny Vitishko, a jailed environmentalist.

Vitishko has been sentenced to three years in prison for vandalising a fence, in a case that activists say is linked to his criticism of environmental violations during Olympic construction.

The Olympic games in Sochi have been the site of various protests, many of which have targeted the repressive anti-gay laws enacted by the Putin government and a broader call to end Russia's restrictive and authoritarian legal system.

Though Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have in many ways become the international face of Pussy Riot, the other members of the underground band have made it clear in recent weeks that though they support their former bandmates and fellow activists, the two should no longer be considered active members of the group.

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