By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) – An anti-Kremlin activist lost his sight, hearing and his ability to walk in a suspected poisoning last week but is doing better since he arrived in Berlin for treatment, according to a member of the Pussy Riot band and a newspaper.
Pyotr Verzilov, publisher of a Russian online news outlet and affiliated with the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, arrived in Berlin from Moscow late on Saturday on a medical transport plane, said Jaka Bizilj, managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace organisation. The human rights group paid for the transport, and Bizilj said that Russia had been “cooperative” in the matter.
Photographs taken by Bizilj at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport showed Verzilov on a stretcher, his eyes closed, as he was being transferred to an ambulance.
“He’s better. Everything is okay,” a member of Pussy Riot, Veronika Nikulshina, told Reuters from Verzilov’s hospital room. “The doctors here are great.” She made no further comment.
Verzilov was being treated at the Charite hospital in Berlin, according to a source familiar with the matter. The hospital declined to comment.
German newspaper Bild, which first reported Verzilov’s arrival, on Saturday quoted family members as saying he had lost his sight, his ability to speak and his ability to walk.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s wife and a Pussy Riot member, told the newspaper she believed he was poisoned. “I believe that he was poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him,” she said.
Nikulshina told the BBC that a friend of Verzilov’s father would treat him. “We are taking Petya to Berlin because there is a friend of his father there, a doctor who will be taking care of (him),” she said, using the diminutive form of Pyotr.
Bizilj said Verzilov had both Russian and Canadian citizenship. He said doctors at the clinic were expected to inform the public on Monday about the activist’s condition.
The Canadian embassy in Berlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The German foreign ministry declined to comment, citing Germany’s strict privacy laws.
Verzilov, 30, is publisher of Mediazona, a Russian online news outlet which focuses on human rights violations inside Russia’s penal system. He staged a brief pitch invasion during the football World Cup final in Moscow in July along with three women affiliated with Pussy Riot.
He became ill after attending a court hearing in Moscow on Tuesday and later suffered seizures while in an ambulance en route to a hospital in Moscow, Bizilj said in a news release.
It was not clear if the medical transfer was discussed at a meeting on Friday between German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012 when its members were jailed for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. The group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin protest action.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Susan Fenton)