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Pussy Riot Invades Pitch During World Cup Final in Anti-Putin Protest

The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia match

A member of Pussy Riot high-fiving France’s Kylian Mbappé at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 15 July 2018. Courtesy: VI Images via Getty Images

A member of Pussy Riot high-fiving France’s Kylian Mbappé at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 15 July 2018. Courtesy: VI Images via Getty Images

A member of Pussy Riot high-fiving France’s Kylian Mbappé at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 15 July 2018. Courtesy: VI Images via Getty Images

Four members of punk activist collective Pussy Riot have been charged with disruption and illegally wearing police uniforms, after they stormed the pitch during the World Cup final. They face fines of up to USD$161. The activists have been identified as Nika Nikulshina, Olga Kurachyova, Olga Pakhtusova and Pyotr Verzilov.

The activists say that their invasion of the second half of the France vs Croatia match (in which France went on to claim a 4–2 victory), at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, was a protest against Russia’s human rights record – Russian president Vladimir Putin was in attendance during the match. The four members ran onto the field wearing white and black uniforms with epaulettes. One woman managed to high-five French teenage football star Kylian Mbappé, but another was grabbed by Croatian player Dejan Lovren. The referee temporarily suspended play while they were removed.

In a statement claiming credit for the pitch invasion, Pussy Riot have said that the protest was aimed at demanding that Russian authorities free political prisoners, halt illegal arrests at rallies, permit political competition, and stop fabricating criminal cases. The statement cited the Soviet-era dissident and poet Dmitry Prigov: ‘the heavenly policeman, according to Prigov, talks on the radio with the God Himself. The earthly policeman gets ready to disperse rallies.’

Pussy Riot tweeted that the four members involved spent the night at a police station, before being taken to court to face ‘charges for administrative offenses so far’. Anti-Putin critic Alexei Navalny tweeted footage of the activists who invaded the pitch being interrogated. One police officer can be heard shouting ‘it’s a shame it’s not 1937 anymore’ – a reference to Stalin’s campaign of political terror and repression.

Pussy Riot are well known for their balaclava-clad public actions, including performing their anti-Putin song, ‘Punk Prayer’ in Moscow’s Christ Saviour Cathedral in 2012, for which three members were jailed. Their action during the France v Croatia match has been one of the few human rights protests timed with Russia hosting this year’s World Cup. Pussy Riot’s protest statement also mentioned the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, currently imprisoned in an Arctic prison camp, who has been holding a hunger strike for several months.

In a speech at the 68th FIFA Congress last month, Putin said: ‘sports and politics do not mix’. Instead, Putin said he was interested in developing ‘the constructive nature of sports and its unlimited humanistic potential’.

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