Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot members march in the streets of Sochi, Russia, upon their release from a police station Tuesday. (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times / February 18, 2014)

SOCHI, Russia -- As the gates of the police station swung open Tuesday, the women of Pussy Riot emerged in their characteristic bright hoods, singing a new song aimed at their favorite target, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Putin will teach you to love your motherland," Russia's most famous punk musicians sang on the steps of the police station after their release from detention -- one of at least two times that they were held since arriving Sunday at the site of the Winter Olympics.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and three other group members complained they were detained, roughed up and held for hours at a local police station from which they emerged Tuesday afternoon, seemingly unbowed.

They had been held in Adler, a suburban town outside Sochi.

“By constantly arresting us, they want to deny us any possibility to make a political statement here about how corrupt these Sochi Games are,” Tolokonnikova, with a bright blue hood on her head, told The Times after her release. “People who dare to speak out are simply doomed to end up detained as a preemptive measure.”

The young women have been followed by scores of police and security agents since their arrival in Sochi on Sunday, Tolokonnikova said. On Monday, she said, they were stopped in their car on what they were told was “an FSB search warrant” and held at a police station for more than 10 hours before being released.

The FSB, or Federal Security Service, is the successor organization to the Soviet KGB.

On Tuesday they were detained again by police as they were walking in downtown Sochi, Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, told reporters in front of the police station.

“They were planning at some point to perform their new song but they were doing nothing of the kind when police detained them,” Verzilov said.

The Sochi Police Department told the Itar-Tass news agency that the young women were detained in connection with a case of theft at the hotel where they stayed.

“In connection with queries regarding citizens Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina and also others who are being questioned at the Adler police station, we report that they are being questioned in connection with a case of stealing at the hotel,” the police said in a statement. “Besides Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, all citizens staying at that hotel are being questioned.”

“At first they suspected us of theft, then they said we were witnesses,” Alyokhina, wearing a pink hood, told The Times. “Then, as witnesses, we were thrown down on the floor and dragged across it. I was pushed down a flight of stairs and my elbows are all bruised now.”

Inside the police station, investigators tried to compel the detainees to testify without their lawyers, the women said, but they refused and were let go a few hours later.

The young women intend to stay in Sochi for the rest of the week and try to record a new song using the footage of their arrests in a video clip, Alyokhina said.

Earlier this month, other members of the group said Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were no longer part of Pussy Riot. It was not clear whether that rift had been healed.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and a third group member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, gained international attention in February 2012, during Putin's presidential campaign, when they entered Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow and performed what they called a punk prayer, begging the Virgin Mary to drive Putin away.

In August 2012, all three were sentenced to two years each for hooliganism inspired by religious hatred. Samutsevich's term was later changed to a suspended sentence. She was not among those detained in Sochi on Tuesday.

In what was widely perceived as an effort to improve Russia's image in the runup to the Sochi Games, both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were granted amnesty by the Kremlin-controlled parliament and released from prison at the end of December, a few months before their prison terms were to expire.

Both women have said that they would dedicate themselves to human rights activism.

“No one can freely speak about a civic position in Russia any more,” Alyokhina said Tuesday. “We are still deprived of the right to free speech here, in a city that functions like a military installation.”

Terrorist threats to target the Olympics have led to a massive security presence at the Games.

Yuri Maryan, the head of the local Anti-Corruption Assn., a Sochi-based rights group, expressed skepticism about Pussy Riot's motives even as he defended their rights.

“Whatever they are up to in Sochi, their activism has nothing to do with the struggle against corruption," Maryan said in an interview. "I think it is mostly aimed at boosting their own image. But if they didn't violate public order, the police had no right to arrest them and treat them like that.”

[For The Record, 9:45 a.m. PST Feb. 18: A previous version of this post stated that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and two other members of the band Pussy Riot complained of being detained. There were three others.]

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sergei.loiko@latimes.com