Poisoned Pussy Riot Activist Flown to Berlin for Medical Treatment

Pussy Riot World Cup 2018 - Getty - H 2018
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Cinema for Peace pays to fly Pyotr Verzilov for specialist care after he fell ill after attending a Moscow court last week.

A member of Russia's anti-Putin political punk group Pussy Riot has been flown from Moscow to Berlin for specialist medical treatment after he fell ill last week in a suspected poisoning.

Russian doctors treating Pyotr Verzilov said that the sudden onset of bizarre symptoms last Tuesday that included a rapid loss of sight, speech and the ability to walk could only have been the result of poisoning. They identified a overdose of anticholinergic drugs as the possible cause, though Verzilov's common law wife Veronika Nikulshina said he had not been taking any medications prior to falling ill.

Verzilov, who holds joint Canadian and Russian citizenship, was among four Pussy Riot activists that ran onto the pitch dressed as police officers during the World Cup final match in Moscow in July, disrupting the game between France and Croatia to protest excessive use of force by Russian security services.

Verzilov fell ill last week after attending a Moscow court appearance by Nikulshina, who had been arrested earlier during a mass protest against pension reform in Russia. He was initially taken to a local clinic before being hospitalized two days later at Moscow's elite Moscow Sklifosovsky Institute, suffering from a range of symptoms that included hallucinations, family and friends said.

Although Verzilov showed signs of improvement, the decision was made to send him abroad for treatment and Berlin-based Cinema for Peace, which has close connections with Pussy Riot, stepped in to pay for his medical evacuation.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, who along with fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina was a guest of Cinema for Peace during the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival, tweeted photographs of Verzilov — her former husband — being carried on a stretcher onto the flight from Moscow to Berlin's Schoenefeld Airport late Saturday evening.

Tolokonnikova told German newspaper Bild that she believed Verzilov's poisoning was "deliberate" and designed to "intimidate or even attempt to murder" him.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were given two-year sentences for the "punk prayer" they performed at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012, protesting against Vladimir Putin's likely running for a third presidential term.

They were released on probation in December 2013, four months before their sentences were due to expire. Many viewed the move as the Russian government's attempt to improve its reputation prior to the 2104 Winter Olympics, held in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

In July 2014, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova filed a complaint with ECHR, demanding the Russian government pay them compensation of over $300,000 for what they alleged amounted to torture during their prosecution and subsequent imprisonment.

In July of this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian government should pay Pussy Riot just under €50,000 euros ($58,000) as compensation for the "punk prayer" controversy.

The ECHR's verdict came just days before Verzilov and three other Pussy Riot members ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final game at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. All four were sentenced to 15 days of "administrative" detention and banned from attending sports events for three years.