World / Crime & Legal

Pussy Riot-linked anti-Kremlin activist seen doing better in German hospital after apparent poisoning in Moscow

Reuters

An anti-Kremlin activist lost his sight, hearing and ability to walk in a suspected poisoning last week but is doing better since he arrived in Berlin for treatment, two friends said Sunday.

Pyotr Verzilov, publisher of a Russian online news outlet and affiliated with the anti-Kremlin band Pussy Riot, arrived in Berlin from Moscow late Saturday on a medical transport plane, the managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group, Jaka Bizilj, said. The group paid for the transport, and Bizilj said that Russia had been “cooperative” in the matter.

Photographs taken by Bizilj at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport showed Verzilov on a stretcher, his eyes closed, as he was being transferred to an ambulance.

Verzilov, 30, became ill after attending a court hearing in Moscow on Tuesday and later suffered seizures while in an ambulance en route to a hospital in Moscow, Bizilj said in a news release.

“He’s better. Everything is okay,” Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina said Sunday from Verzilov’s hospital room in Berlin. “The doctors here are great.” She made no further comment.

Verzilov was being treated at the Charite hospital in the German capital, according to a source. The hospital declined comment.

German newspaper Bild, which first reported Verzilov’s arrival, on Saturday quoted family members as saying he had lost his sight, his ability to speak and his ability to walk.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s wife and a Pussy Riot member, told the newspaper she believed he was poisoned. “I believe that he was poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him,” she said.

Nikulshina told the BBC that a friend of Verzilov’s father would treat him.

Bizilj said Verzilov had both Russian and Canadian citizenship. .

The Canadian government said it was monitoring the situation closely and was seeking more information.

“Canada is concerned by the situation of Canadian citizen Pyotr Verzilov. Our officials have been in contact with Mr. Verzilov’s family, and stand ready to provide further consular assistance,” a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said.

The German foreign ministry declined comment, citing Germany’s strict privacy laws.

Verzilov is publisher of Mediazona, a Russian online news outlet that focuses on human rights violations inside Russia’s penal system. He staged a brief pitch invasion during the soccer World Cup final in Moscow in July along with three women affiliated with Pussy Riot.

It was not clear if the medical transfer was discussed at a meeting Friday between German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012 when its members were jailed for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. The group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin protest action.