SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Protest group Pussy Riot published their first music video since two members were freed from jail, mocking President Vladimir Putin’s hosting of the Olympics as a public relations stunt papering over human rights violations in Russia.
Filmed in Sochi, where the February 7-23 Winter Games are being held, the video shows five group members being beaten by Cossacks with a whip as they try to perform a song beside a wall covered in the Sochi Games logos.
Cossacks, once the patrolmen of the Russian borderlands, are being used to reinforce security around the Olympic Games.
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who spent nearly two years in prison for protesting against Putin in a church, performed in the video released on Thursday, titled “Putin will teach you how to love the motherland.”
“Sochi is blocked - Olympic surveillance / Special forces, weapons, crowds of cops,” read the song’s lyrics.
One verse refers to Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina’s release from prison on December 23 under an amnesty they say was aimed at improving Russia’s image before the Games.
Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said they had been detained three times while trying to film the video since they arrived in Sochi on Sunday.
“The Olympics have turned ... an authoritarian regime into a totalitarian regime with preventative arrests,” Tolokonnikova said at a news conference that had to be held on the street in the town of Adler, near Sochi, after the group could not find a venue that would host it.
“The Olympics creates a space for the complete destruction of human rights in Russia. Here we are banned from speaking out. Here everyone’s rights are banned, including political activist, LGBT representatives, ecologists,” she said.
The Kremlin denies cracking down on opponents and dismisses suggestions it uses the courts for political purposes.
A group of men tried to disrupt the news conference, one of them dressed as a giant chicken and the others holding aloft raw poultry - recalling a performance by radical art group Voina, which Tolokonnikova was once a member of.
Singer Madonna, one of many international performers who have spoken out in support of Pussy Riot, expressed her admiration for the group.
“Are you kidding me? Are the police in Russia actually whipping Pussy Riot for making music on the streets? Is this the dark ages? GOD bless P.R. They are fearless!” she wrote on Twitter.
Pussy Riot members usually keep their identity a secret but Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are now well known and did not hide their faces on Thursday. Two other group members dressed in Pussy Riot’s trademark gear kept their masks on.
The two were founding members of the protest art group formed in 2011 that staged a series of unsanctioned performances, including on the edge of Red Square, using shock tactics to draw attention to political issues.
They were arrested along with another member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, after Pussy Riot performed a profanity-laced “protest prayer” against Putin’s ties to the Orthodox Church in Moscow’s main cathedral two years ago.
They were handed two-year jail terms for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, a sentence criticized by Western governments as disproportionate.
Samutsevich was freed in 2012 when a judge suspended her sentence on appeal.
Pussy Riot said one of the main aims in the video was to draw attention to the trial of Russians charged with organizing violent mass disorder, following protests on the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third term as president in May 2012.
The protesters, who are on trial and are due to be sentenced in Moscow on Friday, could face up to 10 years in prison.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was concerned about the Games being used for political purposes.
“Like many people, I found the (Pussy Riot) video very unsettling,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in Sochi.
“It’s a shame the Olympics are used as a political platform. We ask that the Olympics are not used as a platform to express political views, and we continue to say that.”
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Mike Collett-White; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Mike Collett-White; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Sonya Hepinstall