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Pussy Riot Member Starts Hunger Strike to Protest "Colony Slave Labor"

Pussy Riot Member Starts Hunger Strike to Protest "Colony Slave Labor"
Tue, 9/24/2013 - by Reuters
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera

A jailed member of Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot said she was starting a hunger strike on Monday to protest against "slave labor" in her penal colony, and that she had received a death threat from a senior prison official.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was sentenced to two years in prison in last year after performing what the band called a "punk prayer" in a Moscow cathedral in a protest against President Vladimir Putin that came amid street protests against his rule.

"Beginning September 23, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labor," Tolokonnikova wrote in a letter circulated by her husband Pyotr Verzilov.

"I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle," she wrote. Tolokonnikova is in Penal Colony No.14 in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow, where she said inmates were forced to work up to 17 hours per day sewing police uniforms.

She said workers received no more than four hours sleep per night and that prison officials used senior inmates to enforce order in a system reminiscent of Soviet-era Gulag labor camps.

Tolokonnikova added that collective punishment, increasing production quotas and cases of violence against those who failed to deliver were common in the penal colony where she was imprisoned. She also said living conditions failed to meet human rights standards and Russian law.

"Your hands are pierced with needles and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still you keep sewing," she wrote.

Tolokonnikova said she had also asked the regional arm of the federal Investigative Committee to investigate a senior prison official whom she quoted as saying after a complaint about conditions: "You will surely never feel bad again because it is never bad in the other world."

Penal colony administrators declined to comment on her accusations, and the Mordovia region's prison authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Critics say the sentencing of Tolonnikova and two other band members is part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May 2012.

The Pussy Riot protest offended many in the mostly Russian Orthodox country, but their treatment has also won them high-profile support in the West with celebrities including Madonna and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney speaking up for them.

Tolokonnikova is due for release in March, as is fellow band member Maria Alyokhina. A third band member had her sentence changed to a suspended one.

Alyokhina went on hunger strike in the summer after officials prevented her from attending a parole hearing. She was hospitalized in late May and ended her protest days after prison authorities agreed to her demands, Verzilov said.

Originally published by Al Jazeera

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