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Pussy Riot’s Pyotr Verzilov Was Probably Poisoned, German Doctors Say

"The information we currently have... shows a high plausibility that poisoning has taken place here," medic says.

German doctors treating a Pussy Riot activist who lost his sight, speech and physical mobility said Tuesday that it was “highly plausible” that he had been poisoned, the New York Times and CNN reported, noting that the doctors’ tests had found no evidence that he was suffering from a long-term illness.

Pyotr Verzilov, 30, was treated at two hospitals in Moscow after falling ill before being flown to Berlin for treatment on Saturday. On Tuesday, his doctors told reporters that he was in an intensive care unit but was not in life-threatening condition.

“The information we currently have… shows a high plausibility that poisoning has taken place here,” Dr. Kai-Uwe Eckardt said. “To turn it around, so far we have no indication that there might be another explanation for his state. We are working on the assumption of a poisoning that has lasted about a week. Test results indicate certain active ingredients, but the exact substance has not yet been determined.”

According to the doctors, Mr. Verzilov, who is a dual Canadian and Russian citizen, spent six hours last Tuesday in a Moscow court building, where he had been awaiting the release of Veronika Nikulshina, his partner, who is a member of Pussy Riot.

“We wish we could get a comment from Peter about his poisoning, but we cannot since he’s still disoriented and not fully with us as the Peter we know,” Pussy Riot said in a collective statement released early Tuesday. “He’s dizzy and confused, he cannot remember where he is right now. He remembers his friends and relatives, but he does not understand that he’s in Germany, that he’s in a hospital and there are doctors around him, not prison wardens. ‘Are you the director of the prison?,’ Peter asked yesterday to the head of the hospital. It’s amnesia, but the good news is that this particular form of amnesia is reversible.

“All the symptoms, as both Russian doctors at Sklyfosovsky hospital and the German doctors say, look exactly like effects of poisoning by anticholinergic agent,” the statement continues in part. “It’s a group of drugs, 40 or 50 of them, though the doctors cannot specify yet what exact compound is it. The benefits of anticholinergic drugs for those who want to poison someone is that they don’t last long in blood and urine, and in a few days they are gone (which means that German doctors may not find the exact compound used in the poisoning).

“It’s important to realize that Peter’s life was in danger. He might be dead now if Nika Nikulshina was not around to help him. In large doses anticholinergic drugs can cause respiratory failure and death.”

Verzilov and Nikulshina were two of the four activists who interrupted the soccer World Cup final on July 15. The four were sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Pussy Riot has been active since 2011, and has been particularly vocal against the administration of President Vladimir Putin, whom they consider a dictator. The group staged a performance in 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior that gained them international notoriety. The collective can be frequently seen wearing bright colors, and the themes of their protests include LGBT rights and feminism.

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