MOSCOW, September 25 (RIA Novosti) – Human rights workers and federal prosecutors might conduct a comprehensive review of the prison colony where anti-Putin punk group Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is serving a two-year term, after she declared a hunger strike over prison conditions and threats against her life allegedly made by a prison official.
Dmitry Dinze, one of Tolokonnikova’s lawyers, submitted a request to federal prosecutors calling for an investigation of the penal colony, a spokesman for interregional human rights association Agora said Wednesday.
Dinze, in his request, noted “gross violations” of convicts’ rights, described by Tolokonnikova, 23, in an open letter published by Russian news site Lenta.ru on Monday. He asked that inspectors of labor regulations, sanitary standards and fire safety be allowed to investigate conditions at the colony in Russia’s republic of Mordovia, the spokesman said.
Human rights representatives also met with Tolokonnikova after the letter was published, and expressed an interest in looking into her allegations.
“She stands firmly by her convictions…but there are a lot of facts that need to be discussed and confirmed,” Presidential Human Rights Council member Maria Kannabikh told RIA Novosti on Wednesday. “We still need to talk to the women who are serving sentences, observe [work] production, and we would like to see the medical facilities. Everything written in the letter needs to be confirmed.”
In the letter, given to Lenta.ru by her husband Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova said inmates were forced to work 17-hour days, were deprived of toilet access, washing facilities and food, and suffered regular beatings sanctioned by prison authorities.
She also related stories from inmates who had been at the colony during the summer of 2010, when wildfires swept the region, and said that prisoners had been forced to fulfill their work quotas but had not been taken to the cafeteria because of heavy smoke and emergency conditions.
According to her other lawyer, Irina Khrunova, Tolokonnikova has filed an official complaint with Russia’s Investigative Committee over an incident in which a deputy director of the prison allegedly threatened her life after she demanded fair working conditions.
The colony’s authorities said that Tolokonnikova had complained after they refused to grant her “privileged conditions,” including new workmates and a change of employment.
On Tuesday, prison officials said that Tolokonnikova had been moved to an isolation cell for her own safety.
Tolokonnikova was one of three members of the balaclava-wearing protest 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.
In April 2013 a Mordovian court rejected Tolokonnikova's request for parole. Alyokhina, whose own request for parole was rejected in May, went on hunger strike for 11 days shortly afterward in protest against conditions in her prison camp. Both women are due to be released in March 2014.