Member of Russian Punk Band 'Pussy Riot' Goes On Hunger Strike to Protest "Slave" Treatment of Prisoners

One member of feminist-punk-collective-slash-girl band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, has been in prison since August 2012 for performing a "punk prayer" that pissed off Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, she's penned an open letter declaring herself on hunger strike to protest the penal colony's appalling conditions.

Tolokonnikova, who is part-way through her two-year sentence for "hooliganism," writes that the Mordovia camp in which she's been imprisoned treats the inmates like slaves, and refuses to accept her complaints. Finding no other option, she writes, she has decided to starve herself until she is heard.

"I demand that the Mordovia camp function in accordance with the law. I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves," Tolokonnikova says in the letter.

According to Tolokonnikova, prisoners are forced to work for over 16 hours a day in the sewing shop, at best getting only four hours of sleep a night, and inmates who aren't able to keep up are degraded and abused.

She writes:

Once, a 50-year-old woman asked to go back to the residential zone at 8pm instead of 12.30am so she could go to bed at 10 pm and get eight hours of sleep just once a week. She was feeling ill; she had high blood pressure. In response, they held a unit meeting in order to take the woman down, insult and humiliate her, branding her a parasite. "What, do you think you're the only one who wants more sleep? You need to work harder, you cow!... You can't fail to deliver, either, or else your whole unit will be punished, the entire brigade. The punishment will be, for instance, that all of you will be forced to stand in the quad for hours. Without permission to use the bathroom. Without permission to take a sip of water.

As if that weren't already horrifying enough, the maltreatment apparently extends to physical assault and sexual indecency as well:

Others are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Prisoners themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them is done without the approval and full knowledge of the administration. A year ago, before I came here, a gypsy woman in the third unit was beaten to death...In another unit, new seamstresses who couldn't keep up were undressed and forced to sew naked.

And although Tolokonnikova attempted to lodge a complaint via her lawyer, the prison camp not only reportedly refused to listen, but also threatened her, forcing other prisoners to turn against her:

They use collective punishment: you complain there's no hot water, and they turn it off entirely...The leaders of the unit next to mine, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov's right hands, openly requested that prisoners interfere with my work output so that I could be sent to the punishment cell for "damaging government property." They also ordered prisoners to provoke a fight with me.

The 23-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was arrested after her punk rock group made a brief (40-second, to be precise) unauthorized performance in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral Christ the Saviour, in which they shouted "Virgin birth-giver of God, become a feminist!" and denounced Russian President Vladamir Putin. Putin, of course, is known as of late for his less-than-tolerant attitude towards gays, protestors, and pretty much anyone who doesn't really agree with him. "I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle ejected from the realm of justice for the purpose of stoking the production of the sewing industry; until they start treating us like humans," Tolokonnikova concludes. A fellow band member, Maria Alyokhina, also went on hunger strike last summer, after officials didn't let her go to her parole hearing — she was hospitalized, only ending her protest only after prison officials agreed to her demands.

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