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Russian Activist Verzilov, Blogger Varlamov Briefly Detained In South Sudan

Pyotr Verzilov attends a hearing in a court in Moscow on June 25, 2020.
Pyotr Verzilov attends a hearing in a court in Moscow on June 25, 2020.

Russian activist Pyotr Verzilov, who is a member of the Pussy Riot protest group, and blogger Ilya Varlamov were briefly detained in South Sudan.

The two tweeted on January 13 that they and three other people, including Varlamov's wife, Lyubov Varlamova, were detained upon arrival at the airport of the city of Kapoeta, some 260 kilometers east of South Sudan's capital, Juba.

Varlamov wrote on his blog that the group arrived in South Sudan as tourists, planning to continue on another flight to Juba, but were stopped and detained after airport security found the remote control of a drone in their luggage.

"They found the remote control, but the drone had already been confiscated by the authorities at the Entebbe airport in Uganda," where the group was traveling prior to their arrival in South Sudan, Varlamov wrote.

Ilya Varlamov
Ilya Varlamov

According to local law enforcement officers quoted by Meduza, the detainees allegedly could have been "filming military objects with the drone."

Varlamov wrote that the group refused to hand in their mobile phones despite being asked to do so.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement quoted by the TASS news agency that the group was subsequently released "as a result of diplomatic efforts."

"At this point, issues related to their departure from South Sudan are under discussion," Zakharova said.

Russian Embassy officials told TASS that South Sudanese officials did not press any charges against the Russian citizens, who will spend the night in the city of Kapoeta and on January 14 will leave for Juba.

It was not immediately clear why the group had chosen South Sudan as a tourist destination.

With reporting by TASS and Meduza