Pyotr Verzilov of the punk rock band Pussy Riot was rushed to the hospital late Tuesday, September 11, 2018. He was being treated in the toxicology wing of a Moscow hospital. Members of the band, known for being outspoken political activists in Russia, shared on social media that they believe Verzilov was poisoned.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Doctors Reportedly Suspect Verzilov Was Poisoned With Some Kind of Neuro Medication
Verzilov’s mysterious symptoms reportedly began on September 11th. He told fellow Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina, his reported girlfriend, that he was not feeling well and laid down to rest. The symptoms began hours after attending a court hearing for Nikulshina. According to the independent Russian news outlet Meduza, of which Verzilov is a publisher, Verzilov soon began struggling to see, speak or move.
Emergency responders came to the home to check him out. Verzilov told them he had not eaten anything out of the ordinary. Nikulshina said Verzilov began convulsing and fell partly unconscious on the way to Bakhrushin City Clinical Hospital, and that he did not appear to recognize her anymore.
Meduza reports that Verzilov’s own mother was not allowed to see him. Doctors moved him into the toxicology area of the hospital, but would not initially confirm whether Verzilov had been poisoned. The site later shared that doctors reportedly believed Verzilov ingested a neurotransmitter-blocking medicine. He was reportedly beginning to show signs of recovery.
2. Verzilov’s Most Recent Arrest Occurred at the World Cup in July 2018, During a Stunt to Protest Human Rights Violations in Russia
Pussy Riot is an activist group best known for their outspoken criticism of President Vladimir Putin and the regime’s policies. They push for improved human rights in Russia, freedom of speech and equality for women and the LGBT community.
Pyotr Verzilov was arrested during Pussy Riot’s most recent public protest. He and three other members of the group stormed the field during the World Cup championship game on July 15, 2018 in Moscow. They bought police uniforms and slipped past security. Verzilov told BBC Russian that gaining access to the field was easy once they were in uniform. “No one stopped us. I know the Russian psychology: a police uniform is sacred. Nobody will ask for your permit or accreditation.”
Verzilov, Veronika Nikulshina, Olga Kurachyova and Olga Pakhtusova’s actions on the soccer field did not last long. They were arrested after only about 30 seconds. The stunt was reportedly carried out in order to draw attention to human rights violations in Russia. And they knew they had the largest audience possible for the stunt: the World Cup is the most-watched sporting event on earth. An estimated 3.4 billion people watched at least some of the tournament in 2018, with
The four were each sentenced to 15 days in prison and banned from attending future sporting events for three years.
3. Verzilov and Pussy Riot Attracted Global Attention After a Protest Performance at a Cathedral in 2012
Pyotr Verzilov and Pussy Riot gained worldwide notoriety in February 2012. The group staged a protest at a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. They briefly performed near the altar, and called for President Putin to be removed. Three members of the group were arrested: Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. (Tolokonnikova was married to Pyotr Verzilov). Verzilov acted as the chief spokesperson for them during the trial.
The legal reaction to the protest was more shocking than the actual protest itself. The three women were locked up for five months before the trial even began. The defendants were then brought to the courtroom in a glass cage with armed guards standing in front of it. All three were convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison. Verzilov addressed the verdict in an interview with CNN, which you can watch in its entirety in the video above.
In July of 2018, the European Human Rights Court officially condemned the ruling. The organization declared that Russia had violated the women’s rights by denying them access to their attorney, had banned their online videos without just cause, and treated them unfairly during the trial. The court has ordered Russia to pay $57,000 in damages to the three women, but the Russian Ministry of Justice has indicated it may appeal the ruling.
4. If Verzilov Was in Fact Poisoned, There Could Be International Political Fallout Because He Is Also a Canadian Citizen
Pyotr Verzilov was born in Moscow October 25, 1987. But he spent part of his childhood in Toronto, Canada. He lived there with his family during middle school and obtained citizenship.
5. Russian Government Was Accused of Poisoning a Former Spy & Vladimir Putin Has Long Been Suspected in Attacks Against Critics
Russia was accused of ordering the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March of 2018, who live in Britain. The two survived after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent called Novichok. British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly pointed the finger at the Russian regime, especially the military intelligence service.
Vladmir Putin has denied that his government had anything to do with the poisoning. Prosecutors have charged two Russian citizens, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, for the attack. Putin has stated publicly that the two men were civilians, and that there is “nothing criminal about them,” as reported by the Washington Post.
Pyotr Verzilov and Pussy Riot have slammed Putin and his policies for several years. And many of Putin’s critics or opponents have ended up poisoned or dead over the years, often under suspicious circumstances.
For example: Boris Berezovsky, a Russian businessman and former ally of Putin’s was found dead in Britain in March of 2013 at age 67. He and Putin had a falling out and Berezovsky began publicly criticizing Putin. One of his accusations was that Putin was trying to turn Russia into a dictatorship. Police initially described the cause of death as “unexplained.” In March of 2018, a close associate of Berezovsky’s also ended up dead from strangulation at his home near London: Nikolai Glushkov. And in 2006, a Russian investigative journalist who reported extensively on Kremlin actions in Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to death in the stairway of her apartment building in Moscow.