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Pussy Riot charged in protest at World Cup final

Four activists invade pitch during France’s victory over Croatia wearing police uniforms, calling for political reform in Russia

A steward runs after two members of Pussy Riot who invaded the pitch during the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
A steward runs after two members of Pussy Riot who invaded the pitch during the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

MOSCOW — Authorities in Moscow charged members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot with “violation of spectators’ rights” and illegally wearing police symbols when they ran onto the field during the World Cup final on Sunday.

The Interfax news agency reported late Sunday that the four could face penalties of up to 11,500 rubles ($185) or 160 hours of community service.

Three women and a man dressed in police uniforms interrupted the title match between France and Croatia early in the second half at Moscow’s 81,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium. The interruption was seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin from his VIP box and by international broadcast audiences watching one of the world’s most viewed sporting events.

Pussy Riot issued statements on social media calling for the curtailing of policing powers and other reforms in Russia. The group has antagonized Putin for years and members have served time in prison for staging various high-profile protests.

Before being hauled away, one of the women reached the center of the field and shared a double high-five with France forward Kylian Mbappe.

A Pussy Riot member who invaded the pitch approaches France’s Kylian Mbappe during the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“Hello everyone from the Luzhniki field, it’s great here,” the heavily political punk performance group said on Twitter, and released a statement calling for the freeing of political prisoners, an end to “illegal arrests” of protesters and to “allow political competition” in Russia.

Pussy Riot’s statement also referenced the case of Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, who was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.

The group said the police uniforms symbolized how Russian police’s actions fall short of their “heavenly” depiction in literature and called for reforms. It wasn’t clear if they used the uniforms as a ruse to enter Luzhniki Stadium amid tight security, and the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“The citizens in question were taken to the local police station,” the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said, without providing further details.

A video circulated on Russian social media after the match appeared to show two of the protesters, still in police uniforms, being harshly interrogated at a police station. ihe Internet TV channel Dozhd identified one of them as Pyotr Verzilov, one of the group’s most prominent members.

https://twitter.com/coman42/status/1018706043340288000

Under barking queries from a man off camera, Verzilov says, “I am for Russia, just like you — if you are for Russia.”

“I sometimes wish it was 1937,” the man off screen says, referring to the year in which Stalinist purges were at their height.

Pussy Riot rose to global prominence after several balaclava-covered female members sang a raucous song denouncing Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two of them, including Verzilov’s wife, served nearly two years in prison for the protest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was watching the game alongside his French and Croatian counterparts and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, among other dignitaries.

Pussy Riot was previously known for wearing brightly colored balaclavas, though those who protested Sunday did so with their faces uncovered. The group posted a second statement later with three women, one wearing a pink balaclava, reading a statement acknowledging police had relaxed somewhat during the tournament but calling for greater restrictions on their powers.

“The World Cup has shown very well how well Russian policemen can behave,” one of the unmasked women said in the video. “But what will happen when it ends?”

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The protest was briefly shown on international TV broadcasts, even though FIFA policy is usually to cut away when fans and others run onto the field.

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