The reported poisoning of Pussy Riot member and prominent dissident Pyotr Verzilov is a horrifying attempt to intimidate those who refuse to be silenced in today’s Russia, PEN America said in a statement today.  

Pyotr Verzilov was hospitalized in critical condition on Tuesday, September 11, after reportedly losing his ability to walk, speak, and see, and eventually losing consciousness, according to his partner and fellow Pussy Riot member, Veronika Nikulshina. He fell ill after attending a court hearing related to his arrest – alongside Nikulshina – for participating in protests in Moscow earlier in the week. Hospital staff reportedly refused to provide Nikulshina or Verzilov’s mother with any information about his condition and prevented them from visiting him, insisting they could only share information after he had signed a release form. Although doctors would not say if he had been poisoned, Verzilov was moved to the hospital’s toxicology wing after initial tests.  

“If confirmed, the reported poisoning of Pyotr Verzilov is a dastardly act aimed to terrorize creative activists and independent thinkers in Russia,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s Chief Executive Officer. “Deploying deadly toxins to intimidate, silence and punish is becoming a signature form of torture by Russian authorities. Hospital officials should allow full access to Pyotr’s family and loved ones and ensure that he is afforded the best quality medical treatment to expedite his recovery. Those responsible for this treacherous act, including those who carried it out and those who ordered and approved it, must be held accountable.”

Verzilov is a member of the Pussy Riot collective and serves as its “producer.” He is also one of the publshers of the independent news website Mediazona, which investigates Russia’s criminal justice system. The group has been vocal in the case of Ukrainian writer and film maker Oleg Sentsov, currently on hunger strike in a Russian polar prison.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org