Pussy Riot Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Moved to a Prison Clinic

Pussy Riot Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Moved to a Prison Clinic

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,  a member of the Russian punk band “Pussy Riot” is currently engaged in a hunger strike at a penal colony in Russia. Tolokonnikova has accepted a doctor’s advice and was moved to a prison clinic. She announced her hunger strike on September 23 in protest against death threats and abuses by the colony’s staff.

The news of  her transfer came from her husband Pyotr Verzilov. After being denied any information about his wife’s medical condition for the last few days, Verzilov hopes to see her on Monday.

Tolokonnikova’s lawyers have not had a chance to see her since she was moved to an isolation cell after writing an open letter about the abuse at penal colony No. 14, just before she began her hunger strike. According to colony authorities, the transfer was made for her own protection. The isolation cell is a small room of 7  meters square, with a refrigerator, one bed and a toilet. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was able to keep her private belongings, books and food.

However, official statements issued by colony authorities might significantly differ from what is really going on there. In her letter, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova described a system of abuse that exists at the colony. The goal of the colony authorities, according to Tolokonnikova,  is to enslave people.  She wrote that this goal is pursued with help of  select convicts who have been appointed by colony officials to beat and threaten other prisoners.

Women at the colony, according to Tolokonnikova, are forced to work for as many as 16 hours a day and allowed to  sleep for only 4 hours. Work begins at 7:30 A.M. and ends at 12:30 A.M. the following morning, without exceptions for age or illness. The Prisoners, Tolokonnikova claims, are supposed to be paid for their work;  her pay for a 16-hour  shift was  29 rubles (less than $1) per month at the beginning and 400 rubles ($13) after a raise.

Tolokonnikova also alleged that women are humiliated daily. Although there are  washrooms in the barracks, women are not allowed to wash their privates there. The female prisoners must use a special five-person room shared by all 800 female convicts at the colony. Sewage pipes are often blocked due to massive overuse and women have to clean them themselves without special facilities. The room is contaminated by urine and feces almost constantly.

The food the women are given, according to Tolokonnikova, consists for the most part of stale bread, milk diluted with water, and meals made from spoiled grains and rotten potatoes.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s letter, made public by her husband, was a bombshell. It revealed the abusive nature of the modern prison system in Russia.  Colony No. 14 where Tolokonnikova is serving her term, was inspected by the Presidential Human Rights Council. However, some people are still skeptical about any practical steps that might be taken by this council.

The Gulag* system  created during the Stalin era has not been modified significantly since that time. Millions of people were enslaved in the Gulags by Stalin in order to build the Communist State. The people imprisoned there dug channels, built cities, worked in factories, mines, logging operations, and even conducted scientific research. The famous Sputnik project was achieved only by using a huge slave workforce of engineers, skilled, and unskilled laborers and scientific researchers. The Russian region of Mordovia traditionally had a high concentration of prison camps for Gulag convicts.  It is in Mordovia that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is serving her colony term now.

After her letter went public, Russian human rights activists tried to find the businesses connected to colony No14. These activists assume that the women at the colony work for the “Vostok-Service” company, owned by former Russian Parlament member and prominent member of the ruling United Russia party, Vladimir Golovnev. “Vostok-Service” designs, manufactures and supplies special protection clothing, footwear, tools and even police uniforms. As estimated by the Russian Forbes, in 2011 the company’s income was 18 billion rubles ($ 600,000,000). According to “Moskovsky Komsomolets”, officials at “Vostok-Service” declined to comment concerning their use of convicts as a work force.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who has a young daughter, was convicted in August 2012 together with two other members of the punk band “Pussy Riot,” for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” They performed in Moscow’s Cathedral singing provocative words like “Holy Mary, throw Putin away.”

Tolokonnikova’s two year sentence ends in March 2014. After colony officials and other convicts allegedly made threats against her, Tolokonnikova began her hunger strike. She asked to be transferred to another facility. After a week of starvation she felt weak and suffered from low blood pressure, low blood sugar and headaches. She was moved to a prison clinic in the nearby village of Barashkovo, where she can be observed and treated by doctors. Her husband and lawyers expect to see her on Monday after 60 hours of being incommunicado, according to her husband.

By Alsu Salakhutdinov

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*[GULAG is a Russian acronym reduced to a noun in standard American English. ed.]

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