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Imprisoned Pussy Riot Member Goes On Hunger Strike
September 23, 2013
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"I will not remain silent, resigned to watch as my fellow prisoners collapse under the strain of slavery-like conditions."

That's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, writing in an open letter she published today. Tolokonnikova has announced that she is starting a hunger strike to protest conditions at the facility where she's serving a two-year sentence for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after taking part in an anti-Putin performance in Moscow's largest cathedral on February 21, 2012.

Tolokonnikova is currently housed at Penal Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, Russia. Two other members of the group were charged and convicted for the same crime; Yekaterina Samutsevich was released on probation last October, while Maria Alyokhina remains in prison.

In her letter, Tolokonnikova writes: "I demand that the colony administration respect human rights; I demand that the Mordovia camp function in accordance with the law. I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves" (the Russian text was translated by Bela Shayevich of n+1 magazine).

Tolokonnikova describes harsh conditions in the camp: she writes that prisoners work seven days a week for 16-17 hours a day in a shop that manufactures police uniforms, with one day off every month and a half. They sleep for an average of four hours a day, according to Tolokonnikova, and workers may be denied food, sleep or washroom privileges or forced to stand outside in the cold if they fail to meet quotas. 

The prison service responded to the letter, saying the inmates work in two shifts and that no women spend more than eight hours a day in the sewing shop, the Interfax news agency writes. Mikhail Fedotov, head of Russia's presidential human rights council, announced on Twitter that four members of the council will travel to the prison on Tuesday to investigate the complaints, the Associated Press reports.

There's also a Canadian connection to the story: Tolokonnikova's husband, artist Pyotr Verzilov, lived in Toronto for several years and is a Canadian citizen, the Toronto Star reports. His wife has permanent residency in this country, and Verzilov said last August that the couple might consider moving back to Canada at some point.

Via The Guardian

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