Pyotr Verzilov attends a court hearing in Moscow on July 16. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Pyotr Verzilov, an associate of the controversial anti-Kremlin art group Pussy Riot, was taken to a hospital after a suspected poisoning this week, members of the group have said.

Verzilov’s partner, Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina, said he had fallen ill late Tuesday. His symptoms included the loss of his sight and ability to speak, she said in an interview Thursday.

Online news organization Meduza cited a friend of Verzilov saying he was being treated in the toxicology wing of Moscow’s Bakhrushin City Clinical Hospital. The unnamed friend also said that Verzilov’s mother was not allowed to see her son. “They sent her away and were rude,” the friend was quoted as saying.

Although Nikulshina said it was still too early to say what had happened, a message posted to a Twitter account associated with Pussy Riot suggested that Verzilov had been poisoned.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, another member of the group, also posted to Twitter saying poisoning was suspected.

According to Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Verzilov was still in a serious condition Thursday and remained hospitalized.

In a country where protests against the Kremlin can be risky for dissidents, Pussy Riot has emerged as one of the highest-profile critics of the Russian state in recent years. The group combine punk-rock music with provocative political stunts to spread anti-authoritarian and feminist messages that often find them at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The group gained global notoriety in 2012 when they staged a performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Three members of the group were subsequently arrested and imprisoned on charges of hooliganism.


Stewards pull Pyotr Verzilov off the field after he disrupted a match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow on July 14. (Martin Meissner/AP)

An associate of Pussy Riot since it was formed in 2011, Verzilov had previously worked with Tolokonnikova and other members of the group as part of the Voina anarchist performance-art group. When members of Pussy Riot were imprisoned in 2012, he served as a spokesman for the group, reaching out to international figures to raise awareness of their plight.

During the final of the World Cup in July, Verzilov, Nikulshina and two other activists ran onto the pitch during the game between France and Croatia, wearing Russian police uniforms. They later served 15-day jail sentences for the disruption, which they said was a protest of excessive police power in Russia.

Verzilov is a joint Canadian-Russian citizen. Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, said Wednesday evening that Canadian diplomats are looking into the reports, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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