Slavery in Russian Women Prison Camp Revealed by “Pussy Riot” Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Slavery in Russian Women Prison Camp Revealed by A” Pussy Riot” Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

One of the members of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Russia, confirmed allegations stated by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova that is serving a two year sentence at penal colony No 14. A member of a Russian punk group “Pussy Riot” accused colony authorities in creating an abusive system on their facility and enslaving women.

Iliya Shablinsky, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, confirmed accusations stated by Tolokonnikova in her open letter, according to Russian Gazeta.ru website.  He visited the colony a few days after she went public with her decision to start a hunger strike protesting against inhuman conditions at the colony.

In the interview Ilya Shablinsky gave to Gazeta.ru, he said that he was able to talk to eight convicts in an office, provided by the colony authorities, and things he heard from them, in his own words, made his hair stood up.

“One of convicts – her nose was dislocated on the side like on a boxer’s face – just started crying after my following question about duration of her working hours.”

Shablinsky admitted that all the women were terrified to talk and most of them refused to answer his questions. However, in spite of the fear three women, Nataliya Karatina, Uliana Balashova and Kseniya Ivachenko, gave him written statements and confirmed Tolokonnikova’s accusations. Shablinsky provided their names hoping that publicity will help protect them.

Protection of these three women might be a real issue now since punishments at the colony, according to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, are severe and done by the hands of other convicts, whom authorities put in charge of the rest. According to Tolokonnikova’s lawyer, Irina Khrunova, authorities rely on those who committed most serious crimes, like premeditated murder, to control the rest. The story Tolokonnikova mentioned in her letter about a 30 year old gypsy woman who was beaten to death, was confirmed by other convicts, says Shablinsky. Another woman who was also severely beaten refused to talk to him and tried to hide her face. He noticed a yellow stripe on her badge that means she attempted suicide.

Beating is not the only punishment. Human rights activist confirmed that the women are not allowed to enter the barracks until their scheduled hour, regardless of the season. Shablinsky met a woman who was denied the right to enter her barrack at an earlier time and was left outside in the winter cold. Her fingers and toes were so frostbitten they had to be amputated later.

Shablinsky also confirmed Tolokonnikova’s statements about the 16 hour work shifts. Despite there being an eight hour daily work regulation, the women have to work more to complete their labor assignments. At colony No14, they are sewing police uniforms, so each day they have to finish 150 of them and eight hours of work is not enough. To complete their quotas, they have to ask for overtime, including weekends. If they don’t, they are punished and publicly humiliated by their inmates. Salary for such slave labor, according to the women Shablinsky interviewed privately, was 300-500 rubles ($10 – 16) per month; however, at their work station, when prison guards were present, they talked about 1,000 rubles ($30).

Human rights activists revelations made to Gazeta.ru is not an official statement made by the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council. Four of its members visited the colony after Tolokonnikova complained about the abuse existing there and all of them have different opinions, Tolokonnikova’s lawyer accepts. One of them, Mr.Myslovsky, a former prosecutor, calls Pussy Riot member’s allegations a complete lie, she says.

However, many people familiar with the Russian prison system admit that horrors of the prison camp described in the open letter by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, sound quite real.

One of the former convicts, that asked not to be named, told Gazeta.ru that the colony in Mordovia, where Tolokonnikova is serving her sentence, is one of the “red” camps and known for the severity of the regime, controlled by the authorities, and inhuman work assignments given to the convicts. In the “black” camp, rules were adjusted not without the influence of “thiefs in law” – criminal authorities and were not so brutal.

Svetlana Bakhmina, former manager of Yukos company, spent 3.5 years at another Mordovian penal colony after she refused to testify against her former employer, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. She says at her camp, women were also not allowed to enter their barracks and had to stay outside for hours in rain or snow. She doubts the hunger strike Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has started will do anything to change the camp system which currently exists in Russia since Stalin’s GULAG (the acronym for Chief Administratiopn of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies).

However, she might be wrong. The story of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s conviction made her known around the world. She was sentenced together with two other girls – members of the “Pussy Riot punk band for singing provocative verses at the Moscow’s Cathedral. Their trial was widely publicized. All three girls were actively supported by human rights activists, media and pop stars, writers, journalists, political elite all around the world. When “Pussy Riot” members were convicted, the human rights group Amnesty International called them prisoners of conscience.

Even now a starving punk star Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, makes her voice heard by people around the world. Some of her scared, deprived of sleep, terrorized inmates might go against her to be in peace with the colony authorities, but, still, they need her voice to go public because, unfortunately, their voices won’t be heard otherwise. According to Gulagu.net, Russian human rights group, around the same time Nadezhda Tolokonnikova started her hunger strike, about 30 men did the same at the nearby colony No12 after threats of administration, but nobody reacted at that.

If allegations of Nadezhda Tolokonnika are supported by the rest of Russian Presidential Human Council some changes might be made at the colony where the “Pussy Riot” member serves her sentence, but her colony is only one of 758 correctional colonies open in Russia in 2009. 889,900 people are imprisoned there, and changing the system for all of them is much more complicated.

By Alsu Salakhutdinov

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2 Responses to Slavery in Russian Women Prison Camp Revealed by “Pussy Riot” Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

  1. DER December 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Prisons are pretty much like this the world over, the possible exceptions being Canada and some Western European nations. Any system that has such an imbalance of power such as Correction’s Officers(or foreign equivalents) and prison inmates will attract bullies and sociopaths. They will set up a system that caters to their needs and ignores the needs of the inmates, who are often written off as “deserving it”. The only way for this to change is a fundamental shift in human nature. This young woman should be commended for her courage, and hopefully she won’t end up dead in an “accident” in the prison.

    Reply

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