SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

Poisoned pitch invader in intensive care in Germany

September 19 – German doctors treating Pyotr Verzilov, a member of Russian protest group Pussy Riot and one of those who staged a pitch invasion during the World Cup final, say it is “highly plausible” he was poisoned.

Pyotr Verzilov was one of four protesters dressed as police officers who rushed on to the field during the second half between Croatia and France, briefly holding up play. The protest, designed to promote free speech, marked a rare breach in an otherwise high-security tournament.

Last week the group posted on Twitter that Verzilov might have been poisoned in Moscow and that he had flown to Berlin on a medical transport plane paid for by the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group.

Dr. Kai-Uwe Eckardt of Berlin’s Charite hospital told reporters that Verzilov, who fell ill following a visit to a Moscow court, has been receiving intensive care since arriving on Saturday.

Verzilov’s symptoms, together with information received from relatives and the Moscow hospital he was admitted to last week, “make it highly plausible that a poisoning took place,” Eckardt said.

Verzilov and other members of the Pussy Riot group served 15-day jail sentences for disrupting the World Cup final.

While doctors in Berlin haven’t yet determined what was responsible for the poisoning, they said it could have resulted from various substances including high doses of some pharmaceuticals and plants that contain particular toxins.

Dr. Karl Max Einhaeupl, the hospital’s chairman, said doctors wanted to “refrain completely from all speculation about what made these problems happen.”

The Russian punk band is a notorious and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s government. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Pussy Riot founding member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Verzilov was probably the victim of an “assassination attempt,” alleging that law enforcement agencies in Russia have been “trying to find a way to get to Pyotr.”

“Nobody who has taken part in political activity in Russia can really be safe,” she was quoted as saying.

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