Pussy Riot activist loses speech and sight in suspected poisoning, group says


Pyotr Verzilov, an associate of the controversial anti-Kremlin art group Pussy Riot, was taken to hospital after a suspected poisoning this week, members of the group have said.

Verzilov’s partner and Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina said that he had fallen ill late on Tuesday. His symptoms included him losing his sight and ability to speak, she said in an interview on Thursday.

Online news organization Meduza cited a friend of Verzilov saying he was being treated in the toxicology wing of Moscow’s Bakhrushin City Clinical Hospital. The unnamed friend also said that Verzilov’s mother was not allowed to see her son. “They sent her away and were rude,” the friend was quoted as saying.

Though Nikulshina said it was still too early to say what had happened, a message posted to a Twitter account associated with Pussy Riot suggested that Verzilov had been poisoned.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, another member of the group, also posted to Twitter saying poisoning was suspected.

According to Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Verzilov was still in a serious condition on Thursday and he remained hospitalized.

In a country where protests against the Kremlin can be risky for dissidents, Pussy Riot has emerged as one of the highest profile critics of the Russian state in recent years. The group combine punk rock music with provocative political stunts to spread anti-authoritarian and feminist messages that often finds them at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The group gained global notoriety in 2012 when they staged a performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Three members of the group were subsequently arrested and imprisoned on charges of hooliganism.

An associate of Pussy Riot since it was formed in 2011, Verzilov had previously worked with Tolokonnikova and other members of the group as part of the Voina anarchist performance art group. When members of Pussy Riot were imprisoned in 2012, he served as a spokesman for the group, reaching out to international figures to raise awareness of their plight.

During the final of the World Cup in July, Verzilov, Nikulshina and two other activists ran onto the pitch during the game between France and Croatia, wearing Russian police uniforms. They later served 15-day jail sentences for the disruption, which they said was a protest of excessive police power in Russia.

Verzilov is a joint Canadian-Russian citizen. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday evening that Canadian diplomats are looking into the reports, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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