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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

World Cup final protesters get 15 days in jail and sports event bans

Members of the Pussy Riot punk collective ran onto the pitch at Luzhniki Stadium dressed as police officers

Veronika Nikulshina, one of the four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, attends a court hearing in Moscow. Reuters
Veronika Nikulshina, one of the four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, attends a court hearing in Moscow. Reuters

The four protesters who barged onto the field at the World Cup final in Moscow have been sentenced to 15 days in jail.

The protesters, members of the Pussy Riot punk collective, ran onto the pitch at Luzhniki Stadium dressed as police officers during the second half of Sunday’s match between France and Croatia. They called for the release of political prisoners and for more open political competition.

A court on Monday sentenced them after finding them guilty of violating the law on behaviour of sports events spectators. They were also banned from attending sports events for three years.

Pussy Riot, long a thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side, claimed responsibility for the four people who brought the World Cup final to a brief halt as the Russian president and a global audience watched.

Stewards tackled the three women and one man who charged onto the field simultaneously in the 52nd minute of one of the world’s most viewed sporting events.

Croatia defender Dejan Lovren pushed the man, helping a steward to detain him, and suggested the incident put Croatia off its game. The team was 2-1 down when the protest happened, and lost 4-2.

“I really was mad because we’d been playing at that moment in good shape,” Lovren said. “We’d been playing good football and then some interruption came. I just lost my head and I grabbed the guy and I wished I could throw him away from the stadium.”

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

“Hello everyone from the Luzhniki field, it’s great here,” the heavily political punk performance group said on Twitter. The four were charged with violation of spectators’ rights and illegal wearing of law enforcement symbols.

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 symbolised how Russian police’s actions fall short of their “heavenly” depiction in literature and called for reforms. It was not clear if they used the uniforms as a ruse to enter Luzhniki Stadium amid tight security.

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. The Internet TV channel Dozhd identified one of them as Pyotr Verzilov, one of the group’s most prominent members.

Under barking queries from a man off camera, Mr 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 Mr Verzilov’s wife, served nearly two years in prison for the protest.

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 TV broadcasts, even though Fifa policy is usually to cut away when fans and others run onto the field.

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