Members of Russian protest group Pussy Riot crashed the Sochi Olympic party on Tuesday when they were detained at a police station, briefly diverting the world's gaze from snowboarders and skiers who braved thick fog, rain and snow to race.
Five group members were among those held for around three hours at a police station in the Adler district of Sochi, not far from the Olympic Park where Russia is hosting its first Winter Games.
Among them were Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, freed from prison less than two months ago under an amnesty, having been given two-year jail terms for hooliganism – a sentence that several Western governments condemned as disproportionate.
Their detention in Sochi during the Feb. 7-23 Olympics, and the huge media interest it generated, will be an unwelcome development for President Vladimir Putin, whose legacy rests in part on staging a problem-free Games.
Until now there has been little sign of dissent against Putin or the huge cost of hosting the Games, and the Pussy Riot incident may prove to be a short-term distraction from sporting thrills and spills that have captivated a global audience.
But the five women put the focus back on Russia's human rights record, after legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors attracted widespread criticism in the buildup to the Olympics.
"There are so many violations of human rights," said one released Pussy Riot member, who did not give her name and was unidentifiable behind one of the brightly colored ski masks that all five freed women wore.
"You know, probably it's a sporting event, but why are members of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) saying that Putin is a democrat? It's clear it's not a sporting event, it's a political event."
Tolokonnikova said police had used violence during questioning in the police station.
Sochi police said the women were questioned in connection with a theft in a hotel where they were staying and had no further claims against them.
The women were in Sochi to record a musical film called "Putin will teach you to love the motherland."