Pussy Riot Member Goes on Hunger Strike Over Russian Jail Conditions

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova claims that the penal colony she’s incarcerated in is working her too hard

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who’s serving a two-year sentence in a Russian penal colony for her guerilla protest performance in a church with feminist punk group Pussy Riot, has gone on a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the colony, she said in an open letter n+1 magazine.  the website Free Pussy Riot.

In the letter, published in full on the website Free Pussy Riot, Tolokonnikova said that she began her hunger strike on Monday, calling it an “extreme method” but adding that it is “my only way out of my current situation.”

Also read: Pussy Riot Member Denied Parole in Church Protest Case

The musician, who has been incarcerated at Penal Colony No. 14 in the village of Parts, in Mordovia, complained at length about the work conditions at the colony.

“My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7:30 a.m. to 12.30 a,m.,”  Tolokonnikova wrote. “At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday.

“Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends ‘out of [their] own desire,'” she continued. “In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it.”

The musician also complained of a “threatening, anxious atmosphere” that pervades the working environment. “Eternally sleep-deprived, overwhelmed by the endless race to fulfill inhumanly large quotas, prisoners are always on the verge of breaking down, screaming at each other, fighting over the smallest things,” Tolokonnikova wrote.

“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.”

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In April, the Pussy Riot member was denied parole, which her attorney applied for so that she could care for her five-year-old daughter. Tolokonnikova claimed that she was denied parole because she “didn’t repent.” In a deposition, the penal colony painted the musician as “decisive, insensitive to ethics and conscience and thinking only about herself.”

Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot colleagues were sentenced to two years in 2012 after being convicted of hooliganism, stemming from an impromptu, profane protest of Vladimir Putin in Russia’s main cathedral.