International

Pussy Riot activist and blogger held in South Sudan

A day in detention over drone mix-up

A group of several high-profile Russian tourists spent an uncomfortable day in detention in the town of Kapoeta in South Sudan on Wednesday in a mix-up over a drone.

They included Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot and the publisher of the MediaZona news site, and prominent blogger Ilya Varlamov.

Before going to South Sudan, the travellers had been touring in Uganda, where Mr Varlamov’s drone was confiscated – but not its remote control, which remained in his luggage.

When their bags were searched at Kapoeta airport, where they were due to take a plane to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, security officials demanded to know the location of the drone when they found the remote.

Most African countries have strict laws either banning or restricting the use of drones.

Attempts to explain that they didn’t have the drone fell on deaf ears, and the group were hauled off to a ramshackle room where they were placed under arrest.

But the group insisted on keeping their phones so they could contact their embassy and others for help – and tweeted and blogged about their day.

As they kicked their heels in the heat waiting for the misunderstanding to be resolved, Mr Varlamov posted photos of their cell, counting 43 hornet nests and many spiders.

Amongst the other things he catalogued were three machine gun cartridges, three condoms, a view of the loo and the food they were given.

Later in the day, they were eventually released. According to Mr Varlamov’s blog, an army general apologised to them and for the treatment of their guide, who says he was tortured to find out more about the drone.

It was with relief that they were able to drink some beer afterwards – as they tried to work out how to get to Juba as their plane had long gone.