x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pussy Riot punk on hunger strike to protest prison 'death threats'

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova says she will refuse food and stop work at a sewing workshop until she is transferred to another prison camp.

MOSCOW // Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova began a hunger strike on Monday to protest against death threats and what she described as conditions of slave labour at her Russian prison camp.

In a letter to the media, she paints a harrowing picture of the Gulag-style conditions at the penal labour colony No 14 in Mordovia, where female inmates are forced to work 16-17 hours a day, sleep four hours and endure repeated abuse.

The 23-year-old mother, who is serving a two-year sentence for staging a performance against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral, said she would refuse food and stop her work at a sewing workshop until she is transferred to another prison camp.

Tolokonnikova declared her hunger strike after she said she had received a death threat from the camp’s deputy chief whom she named as Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov and who she said was a self-confessed Stalinist.

The threat came after she complained of the working conditions. Soon after, Tolokonnikova began to receive threats from other inmates, she said.

“This is an extreme measure but I am absolutely confident that this is the only possible way for me out of this situation,” she wrote.

Tolokonnikova, who has been in the camp in central Russia for a year, has previously spoken of prison life with a degree of stoicism.

She has spoken of differences with the prison administration but never before have her letters carried such an alarming tone.

“My life and health are in danger,” she wrote separately in a formal appeal to investigators asking them to open a criminal probe into Kupriyanov’s alleged threats.

Many observers have said that she was deliberately sent to Mordovia, known for its Soviet-era network of Gulag prison camps, to break her will.

Gennady Morozov, head of the state-connected prison watchdog in Mordovia, dismissed Tolokonnikova’s complaints as “nonsense”.

“The prison conditions at the camp No 14 where she is serving her sentence are excellent,” he said.

* Agence France-Presse