MOSCOW, September 23 (RIA Novosti/RAPSI) – Feminist punk group Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, currently serving a two-year jail sentence for a protest in a Russian cathedral, has gone on hunger strike over prison conditions and threats against her life allegedly made by prison staff, according to a letter published by Russian news website Lenta.ru.
“On September 23 I am going on hunger strike,” Tolokonnikova wrote in the letter given to Lenta.ru by her husband Pyotr Verzilov. “I refuse to take part in the camp’s slave labor until prison colony bosses start obeying the law and treating the convicted women like humans, rather than as cattle ejected from the legal world to operate sewing machines.”
In her letter, Tolokonnikova, 23, paints a grim picture of life in her prison colony in Russia’s republic of Mordovia, alleging inmates are forced to work 17-hour days, permitted to sleep for only four hours a night, deprived of toilet access, washing facilities and food, and suffer regular beatings sanctioned by the prison authorities.
Prison officials have unchecked authority within the prison camp, and prevent the prisoners from making any complaints through official channels by intimidation and confiscation, according to Tolokonnikova, Lenta.ru reported.
Tolokonnikova was one of three members of the balaclava-wearing group Pussy Riot who were found guilty of “hooliganism incited by religious hatred” in August 2012 for the group's brief performance of an anti-Kremlin “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. Maria Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, who both have small children, are currently serving two-year jail terms, while a third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was given a suspended sentence.
Yekaterina Khrunova, Tolokonnikova’s lawyer, confirmed Monday that her client was on hunger strike, and said that Tolokonnikova had also filed an official complaint to Russia’s Investigative Committee relating to an incident in which a deputy director of the prison allegedly threatened her life after she demanded fair working conditions.
A spokesperson for the Russian Prison Service said Monday that Tolokonnikova had decided to begin a hunger strike after prison authorities refused a request from Verzilov and Khrunova to approve “privileged conditions” for Tolokonnikova, including new workmates and a change of employment.
In her public letter, Tolokonnikova, whose job in the colony is to sew police uniforms, describes how a working day in the prison colony can last up to 17 hours.
“My entire brigade in the sewing workshop works between 16 and 17 hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. At best we sleep for four hours a day. There is a day off once every six weeks. Almost every Sunday is a working Sunday,” wrote Tolokonnikova, Lenta.ru reported. “Dreaming only about sleep or a gulp of tea, the exhausted, overworked and dirty inmates become putty in the hands of the prison administration, which looks at us exclusively as free labor.”
Tolokonnikova also wrote about the use of force within the prison colony, and said that while her fame means she is to some extent protected, violence is commonplace.
“They beat others. For lagging behind. In the kidneys, in the face. The inmates do the beatings, but not one assault in this prison camp for women occurs without the approval and knowledge of the administration,” Tolokonnikova wrote, Lenta.ru reported.
In April 2013 a Mordovian court rejected Tolokonnikova's request for parole. Fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, whose own request for parole was rejected in May, conducted an 11 day hunger strike against conditions in her prison camp in June. Both women are due to be released in March 2014.