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2 members of Pussy Riot arrested, released at Sochi

2 members of Pussy Riot arrested, released at Sochi
Russian punk group Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in the blue balaclava, and Maria Alekhina, in the pink balaclava, make their way through a crowd after they were released from a police station, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Adler, Russia.
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Shouting and wearing their trademark garish balaclavas, two members of the punk group Pussy Riot left a police station Tuesday after being released following several hours of questioning in Sochi, the host city of the Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, along with seven others, were held by police near Sochi's ferry terminal, a popular area for fans celebrating the Olympics, and taken to a police station for questioning.

Police said they were questioned in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying. No charges were filed.

Tolokonnikova said the detention followed three days of police harassment. She also said the two band members were detained for several hours the previous two days.

"We members of Pussy Riot have been here since late Sunday and we were constantly detained since then," Tolokonnikova said after her release. "We are constantly surrounded by people, not you journalists, but people who are shadowing us, following our every move and looking for any excuse to detain us."

Pussy Riot gained international attention in 2012 after barging into Moscow's main cathedral and performing a "punk prayer" in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was on the verge of returning to the Russian presidency for a third term.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were sentenced to two years in prison, but were released in December under an amnesty bill.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, and other people who were detained on Tuesday insisted that Pussy Riot were not protesting or demonstrating when they were taken off the street. But Tolokonnikova said the band is in Sochi with "the goal of staging a Pussy Riot protest."

Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and three other unidentified women came running out of the police station chanting "Putin will teach you to love the motherland!"

It was not immediately clear whether Pussy Riot would be staying in Sochi or whether they would be protesting.

Yevgeny Feldman, a photographer who has been shadowing Pussy Riot for the past two days and was detained with them Tuesday afternoon, said the band members were filming videos around town for a new song.

Tolokonnikova also said police had shoved her and other detainees and that the group would file a complaint about their treatment to Russia's Investigative Committee.

Pussy Riot, a performance-art collective which edits its actions into music videos, has become an international flashpoint for those who contend Putin's government has exceeded its authority in dealing with an array of issues, notably human and gay rights.

Since their release in December, they have made many appearances overseas to push their campaign for improved conditions in Russia's prisons. Alekhina and Tolokonnikova recently visited the U.S. to take part in an Amnesty International concert.

The area where the group members were detained is in downtown Sochi, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the seaside Olympic venues.

Russia has put severe limitations on protests in Sochi during the Olympics, ordering that any demonstration must get approval and be held only in the neighborhood of Khosta, an area between Adler and downtown Sochi that is unlikely to be visited by outsiders.

Russia's suppression of protests has been widely denounced in the West and the Pussy Riot detentions brought renewed criticism.

"In Putin's Russia, the authorities have turned the Olympic rings - a worldwide symbol of hope and striving for the best of the human spirit - into handcuffs to shackle freedom of expression," John Dalhuisen, Europe director for Amnesty International, said in a statement.

The actions taken against Pussy Riot came a day after an Italian transgender activist and former lawmaker was detained at the Olympics. Vladimir Luxuria was stopped while carrying a rainbow flag that read in Russian: "Gay is OK." On Sunday, Luxuria said she was held by police and told not to wear clothing with slogans promoting gay rights.

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Associated Press writer Jim Heintz contributed to this report.
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