Pussy Riot Member Begins Hunger Strike

Tolokonnikova says she is made to work up to 17 hours a day and has had death threats from prison deputy.


Tolokonnikova is serving a two-year sentence for “hooliganism” after participating in an anti-Putin, anti-clerical performance (See video above) in a Moscow cathedral last year.

In an open letter to The Guardian, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova announced that she will begin a hunger strike to protest conditions at Penal Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, where she is imprisoned. Tolokonnikova documents brutal abuses at the prison camp, including 17-hour workdays, constant beatings, and death threats from a camp administrator.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has written a long letter detailing life inside prison colony No 14 in the Russian region of Mordovia, revealing appalling conditions reminiscent of the Soviet Gulag system.

As part of her punishment she has to sew police uniforms, and she writes in her statement that all the prisoners in her sewing division are expected to work 16 or 17 hours a day, starting at 7.30am and not finishing until after midnight.

"In the best case scenario we get four hours of sleep per night," writes Tolokonnikova. "We get a day off once every six weeks. Almost all Sundays are work days. Prisoners are forced to write requests to work on weekends saying it is their own voluntary decision."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova writes:

"Beginning Monday, 23 September, I am going on hunger strike. This is an extreme method, but I am convinced that it is my only way out of my current situation.

The penal colony administration refuses to hear me. But I, in turn, refuse to back down from my demands. I will not remain silent, resigned to watch as my fellow prisoners collapse under the strain of slavery-like conditions. 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.

It has been a year since I arrived at Penal Colony No 14 in the Mordovian village of Parts. As the prisoner saying goes: "Those who never did time in Mordovia never did time at all." I started hearing about Mordovian prison colonies while I was still being held at Pre-Trial Detention Centre No 6 in Moscow. They have the highest levels of security, the longest workdays, and the most flagrant rights violation. When they send you off to Mordovia, it is as though you're headed to the scaffold. Until the very last moment, they keep hoping: "Perhaps they won't send you to Mordovia after all? Maybe it will blow over?" Nothing blew over, and in the autumn of 2012, I arrived at the camp on the banks of the Partsa River.

Mordovia greeted me with the words of the deputy chief of the penal colony, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who is the de facto head administrator of our colony. "You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist." Colonel Kulagin, the other head administrator — the colony is run in tandem — called me in for a conversation on my first day here with the objective to force me to confess my guilt. "A misfortune has befallen you. Isn't that so? You've been sentenced to two years in the colony. People usually change their minds when bad things happen to them. If you want to be paroled as soon as possible, you have to confess your guilt. If you don't, you won't get parole." I told him right away that I would only work the 8 hours a day required by the labour code. "The code is one thing — what really matters is fulfilling your quota. If you don't, you work overtime. You should know that we have broken stronger wills than yours!" was Kulagin's response."

Tolokonnikova further notes some of the punishments doled out at the prison, "Prisoners are forced to "stay in the lokalka [a fenced-off passageway between two areas in the camp] until lights out" (the prisoner is forbidden to go into the barracks — whether it be autumnl or winter. In the second brigade, consisting of the disabled and elderly,

...there was a woman who ended up getting such bad frostbite after a day in the lokalka they had to amputate her fingers and one of her feet
); "lose hygiene privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to wash themselves or use the bathroom); "lose commissary and tea-room privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to eat their own food, or drink beverages). It's both funny and frightening when a 40-year-old woman tells you: "Looks like we're being punished today! I wonder whether we're going to be punished tomorrow, too."

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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