Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Goes on a Hunger Strike

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by Kerensa Cadenas
September 24, 2013 1:00 PM
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the jailed members of the band Pussy Riot, has gone on a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions in the work camp where she is serving her sentence.

She was arrested for Pussy Riot's performance in Moscow's largest cathedral last February alongside three of her bandmates.

Tolokonnikova has written a letter detailing her life behind bars and the horrible conditions that she and fellow inmates face. She's in Penal Colony no. 14 in Mordovia. According to the labor code, inmates should only work eight hours a day, however as Tolokonnikova horrifically details in her letter, her brigade usually works 16-17 hours a day, from early morning to past midnight. They get four hours of sleep at night, at best, and are only allowed a day off every six weeks. Sundays are still considered a work day and if inmates want a weekend off, they must petition for it.

When inmates can't complete their work days, they are humiliated in front of everyone.

While Tolokonnikova hasn't experienced violence while she's been serving her sentence, she's seen it all around her. She brutally details women being "hit in the kidneys, in the face." She speaks of a woman who was beaten to death, but it was covered up by saying she died of a stroke. Prisoners with ties to the administration will dole out the hazings of other women to keep them in line.

Tolokonnikova says that it creates an anxiety ridden, sleep deprived environment--one that is constantly on the verge of breaking down over the smallest things. She gives two recent examples of this.

Just recently, a young woman got stabbed in the head with a pair of scissors because she didn't turn in a pair of pants on time. Another tried to cut her own stomach open with a hacksaw. They stopped her.

Beyond the hazing, other "informal" punishments include not being allowed to bathe, use the restroom, losing tea-room privileges or even being forced to stay outside until lights out despite the weather.

A Mordovia prison spokesperson says that Tolokonnikova's claims are false.

She wishes she had taken action sooner, when she first filed a complaint in May 2013. She will refuse food until her concerns for her and her fellow inmates are met.

Therefore, beginning 23 September, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labor. 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.

In May, Tolokonnikova's fellow bandmate, Maria Alyokhina, who is currently serving in the Perm region, also went on a hunger strike. It lasted for 11 days and prison authorities met many of her demands.

Tolokonnikova was recently moved to isolation for her safety since her announcement. Her spokesperson confirmed that she was "put in a safe place. She didn't tell me anything about a punishment cell."

Both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are set to be released next spring. You can read Tolokonnikova's letter in full here.

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1 Comment

  • Kathy | September 24, 2013 11:24 PMReply

    Shades of Alice Paul and the Silent Sentinels, the American suffragists who were treated brutally on the streets, in the courts and in prison and responded to atrocious conditions by going on hunger strikes. Russia badly needs a feminist revival and Pussy Riot is leading the way.

    Someone needs to alert the world to the fact that feminists around the world have sacrificed their lives so that women's human rights would be respected.

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