Pussy Riot Member Likely Poisoned, Say German Doctors

Pussy Riot World Cup 2018 - Getty - H 2018
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Pyotr Verzilov, who took part in Pussy Riot's protest at the World Cup in Moscow, was flown to Germany for specialist care when he fell ill after attending a Moscow court appearance last week.

German doctors say there is a "high plausibility" that Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot who was taken ill in Russia last week, was poisoned.

Speaking Tuesday at a press conference, Dr. Kai-Uwe Eckardt of the Berlin Charite Hospital said that an external substance appears to have affected Verzilov's nervous system.

"The information we currently have ... shows a high plausibility that poisoning has taken place here," Eckardt said. "So far we have no indication that there might be another explanation for his state."

Eckardt said doctors have been unable to determine the nature of the substance or its source, but that activist's life is no longer in danger. Verzilov remains in intensive care.

The announcement gives added credibility to the claims made by other members of Pussy Riot that Verzilov was poisoned in Russia in retaliation for the group's protest actions against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Verzilov and three other Pussy Riot members ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final game at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on July 15. All four were sentenced to 15 days of "administrative" detention and banned from attending sports events for three years.

Verzilov fell ill last week after attending a Moscow court appearance by his partner Veronika 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.

Russian doctors treating Verzilov said that the sudden onset of bizarre symptoms last Tuesday, which included a rapid loss of sight, speech and the ability to walk, were likely due to an overdose of anticholinergic drugs, though Nikulshina said he had not been taking any medications prior to falling ill.

The Berlin non-profit group Cinema for Peace paid to fly Verzilov to Germany for specialist treatment.

Verzilov is a joint Russia-Canada citizen, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said that the situation was of concern, "particularly given actions of recent months by the Russians in the U.K.," making reference to the alleged Russian poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury last March. British investigators have tied the poisoning to Russian operatives. Russia has denied the claims.

Pussy Riot emerged as an international protest group more than six years ago, when three members, wearing their trademark brightly colored balaclavas,were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison for performing an anti-Putin protest song called "Punk Prayer" at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.