Pussy Riot members released after 16 days detention over World Cup protest

The activists were jailed for a pitch invasion protest at the World Cup final.

Four activists from the Russian protest group Pussy Riot, who were jailed earlier this month after they staged a pitch invasion of the soccer World Cup final, have been released.

The activists, Pyotr Verzilov, Nika Nikulshina, Olga Kurachyova and Olga Pakhtusova had been due to be released on Monday after serving a 15-day sentence, but as they left prison they were held ahead of a new court hearing in Moscow. At first, it appeared their detention would be extended again after the Khamovnichesky court had ordered them to be held another night again at a police station to await a hearing. But a few hours later Verzilov wrote that an order was issued for them to be released after their appearance in court was postponed until at least next week. The four group members are now free.

Verzilov posted a photo of the four outside the police station at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium with the caption, "Freedom after 16 days of arrest."

The activists appeared in court today on another charge from the World Cup protest -- that of holding an unauthorized public demonstration. At the court, however, the judge said the documents submitted by police were inadequate and postponed the hearing, according to Verzilov. The group's lawyer Nikolai Vasilyev also told reporters that the hearing had been postponed on account of the case materials, the Russian news site Mediazona reported.

The group has been charged over the protest that saw the four activists run onto the field dressed as police officers during the World Cup final on July 15, where France beat Croatia 4-2. The group said the demonstration was intended to protest the police and courts' roles in the political persecution of opponents of the Kremlin.

The four sneaked into the stadium wearing the white shirt and black trousers uniform worn by police. They told a Russian website they had managed to get past security simply by shouting rudely and loudly into their mobile phones.

All four were detained by police on the field at the game, which was being watched live by President Vladimir Putin and France's leader Emmanuel Macron. One activist managed to high-five the French star Kylian Mbappé.

The Croatian defender Dejan Lovren was less indulgent and angrily grabbed hold of Verzilov and tried to pull him down.

The activists were convicted of violating regulations on spectator behavior and were also banned from attending sporting events for three years.

Pussy Riot became globally famous after they were arrested for performing what they called a 'punk prayer' in Moscow's main cathedral, the Church of Christ the Savior in 2012, where they danced and sang a song mocking Putin. Three founding members, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich were jailed for two years on religious hatred charges.

The case became a cause celebré around the world, with music stars like Madonna calling for their release.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich did not take part in the World Cup protest. Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova's husband, helped found the group and has often acted as PR impresario for it. The group has always said it is non-hierarchical and that it has no fixed leaders or members.

During the pitch invasion protest the activists did not wear Pussy Riot's trademark colored balaclavas, but they did don them in a video they released explaining the purpose of the action.