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Pussy Riot members detained at Winter Olympics

Pussy Riot members detained at Winter Olympics

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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Aloykhina held on charges of theft near Sochi

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Two members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot have been detained near Sochi, Russia, site of the Winter Olympic Games. Russian activist Semyon Simonov tells the Associated Press that recently freed members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Aloykhina were detained near the Sochi suburb of Adler today, adding that other activists were held by police, as well. They originally believed they were being detained in connection to an alleged hotel theft, but were later told they were being questioned as witnesses, and were released later Tuesday.

In a spate of posts published to her Twitter account Tuesday morning, Tolokonnikova said she and Aloykhina were first detained on February 16th for seven hours and again on February 17th for ten hours. She wrote that they were planning to sing a protest song called "Putin will teach you to love the motherland," though they had not staged any demonstrations yet, and were simply walking around Sochi at the time of their detainment Tuesday. In a separate tweet, Tolokonnikova published a photo of what appears to be Aloykhina being carried away inside a police wagon. According to Simonov, a total of ten people were taken in Tuesday, including Tolokonnikova, Aloykhina, and himself.

In a statement provided to Russia' Interfax news agency, local police said the activists were held for questioning in connection with an alleged theft at the hotel where they were staying. "They are being questioned concerning a theft that at a hotel they are staying at," the statement reads. "Along with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina, all the hotel’s guests are being questioned."

In a series of tweets published after their detainment, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said they were beaten and bruised by police during their interrogation. Tolokonnikova wrote that she was "pushed face down on the parquet floor," while Alyokhina said they were dragged by investigators up a flight of stairs, sustaining bruises along the way. Police became more "affectionate," Tolokonnikova wrote, upon the arrival of their lawyers.

Tolokonnikova and Aloykhina were sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 after holding a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin inside a Moscow cathedral. They were released early in December 2013, thanks to an amnesty bill signed by Putin. The bill also granted amnesty to longtime Kremlin adversary Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and was widely seen as an attempt to defuse criticism of Putin's human rights record ahead of the Sochi games. The Kremlin has come under intense criticism for controversial anti-gay propaganda laws passed last year, and alleged widespread corruption and environmental negligence committed during preparations for the Olympics.

Putin had banned all protests at Sochi last year, before relaxing his stance last month. The new policy allows for protests in designated areas, but demonstrators must receive prior approval. Some high-profile activists have had difficulties gaining access to the region, while others have been arrested on charges that human rights groups describe as nebulous. Environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko this week announced that he was going on hunger strike, after being sentenced to three years in a prison colony on allegedly trumped up charges. On Monday, an Italian gay rights activist and former politician was detained after shouting "It's OK to be gay" around the Olympic Park.

Tolokonnikova and Aloykhina have remained outspoken critics of Putin since being released from prison, seizing the opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of political prisoners around the globe. In December, they announced plans to create their own human rights organization, and recently appeared at an Amnesty International event in Brooklyn. An open letter published to the Pussy Riot website earlier this month claimed that Tolokonnikova and Aloykhina had left the group, though they later denied the reports.

This article will be updated as information about the incident comes in.

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