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The president of the Russian athletics federation, Dmitry Shlyakhtin (right)

The Russian athletics federation says it has launched a legal challenge to overturn a three-year ban on its athletes, which followed a major doping scandal.

RUSAF said on September 26 that it had filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), days after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) conditionally ended its suspension of Russia’s anti-doping agency despite opposition from dozens of athletes and the anti-doping establishment.

However, the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) ban is still in place.

Russia’s track team was banned from international competition in November 2015 after a WADA-commissioned report outlined evidence of an extensive, government-backed doping program in sports.

Moscow has repeatedly denied state involvement in doping.

Despite RUSAF’s suspension, some athletes from Russia have been allowed to compete as “neutrals” in international events after proving their anti-doping credentials.

The CAS did not immediately comment on the Russian appeal.

The IAAF confirmed to the AP news agency that it received a letter from RUSAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin asking for the Russian track team to be reinstated "as soon as possible."

The organization said in a statement that it will “robustly” defend any challenge to the suspension of RUSAF.

“The only way for RUSAF to achieve reinstatement is by satisfying the reinstatement conditions to the satisfaction of the IAAF Council," it added.

Reports quoted the letter to the IAAF as saying RUSAF has “no choice” but to file an appeal against the council's decision in July to extend its suspension.

RUSAF is "guided solely by the interests of fairness, justice, and equal treatment of clean athletes," the letter also read.

The IAAF task force established to investigate Russia's compliance is to report back to a council meeting in December.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and the BBC
Pyotr Verzilov (left) speaks with ex-wife Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in his Berlin hospital room, where he was recovering from suspected poisoning.

A German hospital says it has discharged Russian dissident activist Pyotr Verzilov after he made significant progress in his recovery from suspected poisoning.

The Charite hospital in Berlin said that Verzilov was discharged on September 26. He arrived in the German capital in mid-September after initial treatment in Moscow.

"The patient's health has considerably improved," the hospital said in a statement, adding the "absorption" of a poison was the "most plausible explanation" for Verzilov's ill-health.

Verzilov, 30, fell ill in Moscow on September 11 with symptoms that his friends say included diminished eyesight and an inability to speak or move.

After his initial treatment in the Russian capital, he was transferred to the Charite hospital.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk art collective Pussy Riot and Verzilov's ex-wife, said in an interview with Current Time TV that he and those close to him were under around-the-clock protection by German police while he received treatment for the suspected poisoning.

Tolokonnikova told Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that police in Berlin implemented the security measures after a friend of the activist reported being followed by unidentified men.

"They sleep in the same building as police, and if they go somewhere, then it's only in a police minivan," Tolokonnikova told Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, on September 25.

Tolokonnikova, who returned to Moscow on September 23 after visiting Verzilov at the Berlin hospital, said the German police protection came after Verzilov's friend, Hunter Heaney, noticed unidentified men following him in Berlin on two separate occasions.

Those incidents on September 22 and 23, respectively, came after reports by Kremlin-friendly Russian media outlets featuring images of Tolokonnikova that appear to have been taken surreptitiously while she was shopping for clothes in Berlin.

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks with Current Time TV: "Most likely this operation was not carried out by idiots, but rather with relative sophistication."
Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova speaks with Current Time TV: "Most likely this operation was not carried out by idiots, but rather with relative sophistication."

The reports by the REN-TV network downplayed Verzilov’s illness and suggested Tolokonnikova was more interested in shopping that in Verzilov’s treatment.

"We don’t know who it was. I didn't see anyone. There is speculation that it could have been officers of Russian security services or people affiliated with them who then leaked the photographs of us to the REN-TV network,” Tolokonnikova said, adding that she was buying underwear for Verzilov at the time the images were taken.

Heaney, a friend of Verzilov who has visited the activist in the hospital, told RFE/RL that he noticed two men watching the front door of his apartment in central Berlin on September 22.

The following day, he saw one of those men in the passenger seat of a red compact car "that pulled out on a deserted street I had just walked down and doubled back...to come in my direction and sped off as I looked closely in the windows," Heaney said in an e-mail.

Heaney, who said he provided information about the car to police, confirmed that he and others close to Verzilov are now under constant police protection.

A spokesman for Berlin police told Reuters that they were in touch with Verzilov and those with him but declined to comment on possible security measures "in detail."

'Like Being In A Black Hole'

Verzilov on September 25 posted his first lengthy tweet since he fell ill, writing: "I've been relatively conscious now only for the past three days, and before that it was like being in a black hole."

"I am spending my days in the friendly company of wonderful poisons. But not polonium-210 or Novichok, but something new and surprising," he added.



Novichok is the Soviet-developed toxin that British authorities say Russian operatives deployed in the March poisoning of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in southern England. Radioactive polonium-210 caused the 2006 death of former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London.

Another doctor at the Charite hospital, Karl Max Einhaeupl, said last week that there was so far no other explanation for Verzilov's condition other than poisoning and that there was no evidence that the activist was suffering from a long-term illness.

He added that the symptoms indicate a disruption of the part of Verzilov's nervous system that regulates the internal organs, but that the substance responsible for the poisoning hasn’t been yet determined.

Tolokonnikova said it remains unclear precisely how or when Verzilov might have been poisoned and that his associates did not notice anything suspicious before he fell ill.

“That tells us that most likely this operation was not carried out by idiots, but rather with relative sophistication,” she told Current Time.

Tolokonnikova said she believes Verzilov’s alleged poisoning may be linked to an investigation he was working on into the the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in July.

Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko were killed on July 30 in the C.A.R., where they were working on a documentary about the possible activities there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary group with alleged Kremlin ties.

Tolokonnikova said that the day before he fell ill, Verzilov, publisher of the Russian news outlet Mediazona, received a report from an associate in the C.A.R. investigating the killings.

"As far as I know, [Verzilov] is interested in pursuing this investigation further, because the current report is far from finished," she said.

With reporting by Current Time TV, Carl Schreck, and Reuters

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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