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World Cup final pitch invader in hospital; protest group claims he was poisoned

Croatia's Dejan Lovren helped security detain a protester.
Pyotr Verzilov was one of four members of the Pussy Riot protest group to invade the pitch during the 2018 World Cup final.

One of the protesters who invaded the pitch during the 2018 World Cup final is seriously ill and in hospital, members of the Pussy Riot protest band with whom he collaborated have claimed while suggesting he may have been poisoned.

Prominent anti-Kremlin activist Pyotr Verzilov, 30, staged a brief pitch invasion during the match between France and Croatia in Moscow on July 15 along with three women affiliated to the anti-Kremlin punk band and is the publisher of Mediazona, a Russian online news outlet which focuses on human rights violations inside Russia's penal system.

"Our friend, brother, comrade Petr Verzilov is in reanimation. His life is in danger. We think that he was poisoned," Pussy Riot said on its official Twitter feed on Wednesday.

In subsequent tweets on Thursday it made an appeal for a toxicologist -- "the best in the profession" -- before apparently finding one.

Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Mediazona, struck a more cautious note however, confirming on social media that Verzilov was in hospital but saying nobody knew his diagnosis.

Online news portal Meduza cited Veronika Nikulshina, who it said was Verzilov's girlfriend, describing how he had been rushed to hospital on Tuesday night after he started to lose his eyesight and ability to talk and walk.

Nikulshina told The Associated Press that the report was accurate but wouldn't comment further, while friends insisted that Verzilov hadn't been taking medications or using drugs. Verzilov has been hospitalised in Moscow since Tuesday.

Verzilov is a dual citizen of Russia and Canada, and on Thursday Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that consular officials from his country were attempting to provide support.

"It is of concern obviously, particularly given actions of recent months by the Russians in the U.K., so we are certainly taking this very seriously and working with the individual," Trudeau told reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday.

"It is too early to draw any conclusions about what has happened or how it has happened. We just know that there's a Canadian who is in the hospital that we need to make sure we're getting support to."

The members of the Pussy Riot protest group were detained for a total of 16 days after their World Cup final pitch invasion
The World Cup final pitch invaders were detained for 16 days, according to their lawyer.

Verzilov and the others served a 15-day sentence for running on to the pitch in front of President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials wearing police uniforms during France's 4-2 win, a stunt they said was meant to promote free speech. They were eventually released after 16 days, according to their lawyer.

Speaking to The AP last week, Verzilov said, "Public protest in Russia is the only way to actually change anything."

Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012 when its members were jailed for staging a protest against Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. The group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin protest action.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

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