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Originally published February 19, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Page modified February 20, 2014 at 5:54 AM

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Pussy Riot attacked by Cossacks in Sochi

Russian punk band Pussy Riot on Thursday ended their stay in the Olympic city of Sochi by posting a video criticizing the Winter Games and President Vladimir Putin.




Associated Press

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SOCHI, Russia —

Russian punk band Pussy Riot on Thursday ended their stay in the Olympic city of Sochi by posting a video criticizing the Winter Games and President Vladimir Putin.

The band has been filming in Sochi since Sunday and has had violent run-ins with authorities. They have been detained several times, and on Wednesday militia members attacked the group with horsewhips as they tried to perform under an Olympic sign.

Band members said they were returning to Moscow to attend the verdicts in a trial of 20 people arrested after clashes on the eve of Putin's inauguration to a third term in 2012.

The performance-art collective, made up of a loose grouping of feminists, has called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, arguing that Putin has exceeded his authority and is restricting human rights. Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina spent nearly two years in prison on charges of hooliganism for their protest in Moscow's main cathedral in 2012.

Pussy Riot's video, called "Putin will teach you how to love the motherland", was posted on YouTube and features a song and footage of the band's protests. Members told a news conference their treatment in Sochi is symptomatic of dissent being stifled in Russia.

"The Olympics has turned the police state into a total police state and the authoritarian regime into a totalitarian regime with preventive arrests," Tolokonnikova said. "The Olympics has created an environment of sweeping violations of human rights in Russia. We are banned from speaking out here."

Tolokonnikova described the band's performances throughout the city since Sunday as a form of "active boycott" of the games.

As they gave the news conference in a Sochi park, Pussy Riot was surrounded by pro-Kremlin activists, who interrupted speakers.

The International Olympic Committee on Thursday condemned the attack on Pussy Riot, saying images it saw were "very unsettling."

Since their release in December, Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have avoided public performances and plunged into activism. They set up a group to defend prisoners' rights and have been publicizing alleged abuse in Russian prisons.

A masked Pussy Riot member said the band had set out to attract international attention to the plight of defendants in a trial she described as "the biggest disgrace of modern Russia."

Twenty people were arrested after clashes between police and demonstrators in May 2012 on Bolotnaya Square on the eve of Putin's inauguration to a third term as Russia's president. They are now on trial, and some of them face up to 10 years in prison if convicted for the protest.

The band is leaving Sochi later on Thursday to attend the verdict in the Bolotnaya trial on Friday morning.



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