Pussy Riot pair sent to 'slave labour' prison camps

Tue, Oct 23, 2012, 01:00

TWO PUSSY Riot members jailed for singing a protest song against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a cathedral have been sent to prison camps infamous for their tough regime. Lawyers for the punk performers confirmed yesterday the women had been removed from their Moscow jails at the weekend.

Pussy Riot said on social media that Maria Alyokhina (24) has been sent to a prison colony in Perm near the Ural mountains, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22) to Mordovia, central Russia. “These are the very cruellest camps,” the band wrote on their Twitter account. Russian authorities declined to confirm these reports, leaving family and friends scrambling to find out exactly where the women had gone.

Earlier this month a judge rejected a plea from Alokhina and Tolokonnikova to serve their two-year sentence in Moscow to be closer to their children. Band member Yekaterina Samutsevich was released after the court heard she had been blocked by a security guard from taking part in the offending punk prayer.

Alokhina and Tolokonnikova’s transfer puts the spotlight on Russia’s vast network of prisons housing 717,000 inmates, of which 58,000 are women. These Soviet-era penal colonies are notorious for punishing work, dismal food and inhumane conditions.

Alokhina and Tolokonnikova could be sharing a dilapidated barracks with up to 40 other women, with little protection from freezing winter temperatures.

The women are likely to be doing manual work, such as sewing military uniforms, for which they will be paid up to 1,000 roubles a month (€22).

“It is slave labour – the oldest equipment, no technical safety. In the summer it is very hot, in the winter it is very cold. Girls sitting behind their machines faint from stuffiness , in the winter there is a chilling draught,” Inna Zhogoleva, who served four years for fraud, wrote recently on the Public Post website.

“There is never enough to eat,” Zhogoleva said. “Everything is done so that you come out not only morally but physically disabled.” Inmates can only shower once a week and may be forbidden from sitting or lying on their bed when they are not working.

Prison guards use violence or threaten inmates with it, according to the Fund for the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights, a Russian campaign group, adding the penal system is “rife with cruelty and corruption”.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Putin critic serving time in Siberia on charges widely seen as trumped up, has told of being put in solitary confinement for drinking tea in an unauthorised area.