Pussy Riot Member Details Prison Abuse, Begins Hunger Strike

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda “Nadia” Tolokonnikova has penned an open letter detailing her time at the Mordovian penal colony, where she is in the middle of serving a two-year sentence for hooliganism. As of today (9/23), she will begin a hunger strike in protest of the harsh treatment (including death threats) she has been experiencing: “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.”

Tolokonnikova’s letter was published on Pussy Riot’s blog, but the Guardian has an English translation done by n+1’s Bela Shayevich, who has done comprehensive coverage of the activist group and their trial. Read excerpts from the letter below.

On labor conditions:

My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. 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”. 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.

On “unofficial punishments” for the “maintenance of discipline and obedience”:

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.” She can’t leave the sewing workshop to pee or get a piece of candy from her purse. It’s forbidden.

On mental anguish and its physical tolls:

A threatening, anxious atmosphere pervades the work zone. 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. 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.

On hygiene conditions:

The hygienic and residential conditions of the camp are calculated to make the prisoner feel like a filthy animal without any rights. Although there are “hygiene rooms” in the dormitories, there is also “general hygiene room” with a corrective and punitive purpose. This room has a capacity of five; however, all 800 colony prisoners are sent there to wash themselves. We do not have to wash ourselves in the hygiene rooms in our barracks — that would be too easy. In the “general hygiene room”, in the eternal press, women with little tubs attempt to wash their “nursemaids” (as they call them in Mordovia) as fast as they can, heaped onto one another. We are allowed to wash our hair once a week. However, even this bathing day gets cancelled. A pump will break or the plumbing will be stopped up. At times, my unit was unable to bathe for two to three weeks… When the plumbing breaks down, urine splashes and clumps of faeces fly out of the hygiene rooms. We’ve learned to unclog the pipes ourselves, but our successes are short-lived — they soon get stopped up again. The colony does not have a snake for cleaning out the pipes. We get to do laundry once a week. The laundry is a small room with three faucets pouring weak streams of cold water.

(via The Guardian)

Tags: Pussy Riot