By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) – An anti-Kremlin activist lost his sight, hearing and ability to walk in a suspected poisoning last week but is doing better since he arrived in Berlin for treatment, two friends said on Sunday.
Pyotr Verzilov, publisher of a Russian online news outlet and affiliated with the anti-Kremlin band Pussy Riot, arrived in Berlin from Moscow late on Saturday on a medical transport plane, the managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group, Jaka Bizilj, said. The group paid for the transport, and Bizilj said that Russia had been “cooperative” in the matter.
Photographs taken by Bizilj at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport showed Verzilov on a stretcher, his eyes closed, as he was being transferred to an ambulance.
Verzilov, 30, became ill after attending a court hearing in Moscow on Tuesday and later suffered seizures while in an ambulance en route to a hospital in Moscow, Bizilj said in a news release.
“He’s better. Everything is okay,” Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina told Reuters on Sunday from Verzilov’s hospital room in Berlin. “The doctors here are great.” She made no further comment.
Verzilov was being treated at the Charite hospital in the German capital, according to a source familiar with the matter. The hospital declined to comment.
German newspaper Bild, which first reported Verzilov’s arrival, on Saturday quoted family members as saying he had lost his sight, his ability to speak and his ability to walk.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s wife and a Pussy Riot member, told the newspaper she believed he was poisoned. “I believe that he was poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him,” she said.
Nikulshina told the BBC that a friend of Verzilov’s father would treat him.
Bizilj said Verzilov had both Russian and Canadian citizenship. He said doctors at the clinic were expected to inform the public on Monday about the activist’s condition.
The Canadian government said it was monitoring the situation closely and was seeking more information.
“Canada is concerned by the situation of Canadian citizen Pyotr Verzilov. Our officials have been in contact with Mr. Verzilov’s family, and stand ready to provide further consular assistance,” a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said.
The German foreign ministry declined to comment, citing Germany’s strict privacy laws.
Verzilov is publisher of Mediazona, a Russian online news outlet which focuses on human rights violations inside Russia’s penal system. He staged a brief pitch invasion during the soccer World Cup final in Moscow in July along with three women affiliated with Pussy Riot.
It was not clear if the medical transfer was discussed at a meeting on Friday between German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012 when its members were jailed for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. The group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin protest action.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Susan Fenton)