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Pussy Riot's Alyokhina Detained In FSB Protest On Secret-Police Centenary


Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina (file photo)

Maria Alyokhina, a member of the punk protest band Pussy Riot, has been detained while staging a protest at the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the feared Soviet secret police.

Police detained Alyokhina on December 20 after she unfurled a banner reading "Happy Birthday, Executioners" at an entrance to the FSB building on Moscow's Lubyanka Square, she and fellow protester Olga Borisova said.

Alyokhina could be jailed for up to 15 days for the demonstration.

"We decided to come out today and congratulate the chekists, because everybody knows this is considered their holiday," Alyokhina told RFE/RL's Russian Service in a telephone interview from the police station where she was being held.

Officers and employees of the FSB are informally known as "chekists" after the Cheka, the secret police organization that was created by "Iron Feliks" Dzerzhinsky in 1917 and preceded the dictator Josef Stalin's NKVD, the KGB, and post-Soviet Russia's FSB.

Speaking at a ceremony in Moscow to mark the event, President Vladimir Putin, a longtime KGB officer and former FSB chief, said the creation of the Cheka was "an inseparable part of our history" and praised the members of security services as "true statesmen and patriots."

Under Putin, who has put many people with similar backgrounds in positions of power, December 20 is officially marked as the Day of the Security Service Workers.

Alyokhina tweeted a photo that showed two people holding the banner on the steps of the FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square, and Borisova said she and Alyokhina tied the banner to the building's iron doors.

Borisova said she was able to leave the area because police did not realize she was involved in the protest, but that Alyokhina and two photographers, Andrei Zolotov and Denis Bochkaryov, were detained.

Alyokhina told RFE/RL that the three were initially brought to the FSB's reception area for a conversation and later taken to the Meshchansky district police precinct house. She said that a lawyer tried to meet with them but was not allowed in.

News outlet Mediazona later reported that Alyokhina would spend the night at the police station and faces a hearing on December 21 on an administrative charge of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration that hampers "citizens' access to living space, transportation facilities, or social infrastructure."

She and the photographers face up to 15 days in jail or a fine.

FSB officers "were in some kind of panic" she said of their reaction to the protest. "But I don't think anyone would be pleased to feel like an executioner. And no matter what kind of uniform one wears, every one of us has something humane inside, and it seems to me that the FSB is not excluded."

The FSB "is the direct successor of the KGB," Alyokhina said. "We just reminded them of this once again."

Alyokhina and fellow Pussy Riot performer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a stunt in which band members burst into Moscow's Christ the Savior cathedral in February 2012 and sang a "punk prayer" against then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was campaigning for his return to the presidency later that year.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were close to the end of their two-year prison sentences when they were freed in December 2013, under an amnesty they dismissed as a propaganda stunt to improve Putin's image ahead of the February 2014 Sochi Olympics. They have focused largely on fighting for the rights of prisoners since their release.

Putin announced on December 6 that he would seek a new six-year term in a March 18 presidential election. His high approval ratings and control over the levers of power make his victory a foregone conclusion.

Critics say Putin has rolled back the advances in democracy and human rights that were made after the Soviet collapse of 1991, returning to Soviet-style methods and using instruments including the FSB and the courts to stifle dissent

With reporting by Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, and Meduza
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