Pussy Riot Member Granted Prison Transfer

Hunger strike prompts move for activist's 'personal safety'

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.
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Jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will be moved to another penal colony, following a nine-day hunger strike protesting abuses at her current prison, according to The Associated Press. Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service released a statement today claiming it will meet Tolokonnikova's demands for a transfer "for her personal safety." (Read the statement from Tolokonnikova that apparently prompted the transfer at the end of this story.)

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The 23-year-old is currently serving a two-year sentence in the Mordovia region of Russia on charges of "premeditated hooliganism" stemming from the band's "punk-prayer" protest at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 2012. Last month, Tolokonnikova claimed prison officials had threatened her for protesting poor working conditions and accusations of them treating prisoners like slaves. Three weeks ago, she declared a hunger strike and released an open letter about her treatment in the camp, both of which attracted picketers to station themselves outside her prison camp. She ended her strike after it came close to damaging her health permanently. It was the heaviest scrutiny focused on the Mordovian prison complex, one of the largest in Europe, in decades.

Tolokonnikova's husband, Peter Verzilov, recently told Rolling Stone that Tolokonnikova will be launching a non-governmental organization to fight for prison reform and prisoners' rights in the region. "Nothing of this sort exists in this region," Verzilov said. "This will be Nadya’s main legacy from this whole situation."

He described the organization, which will be named "Mordovlag" ("Mordovia Camp" in abbreviated Russian), as a "Mordovian prison control NGO" that will employ lawyers and activists to inspect prisons, visit prisoners and assist in legal appeals and procedural issues. Tolokonnikova will serve as the public face of the NGO, writing texts for the public to read.

Prior to today's announcement, her protests began paying off. Last week, the Federal Penitentiary Service said it was making changes: prisoners would earn more and labor fewer hours.

UPDATE: RS has obtained the statement by Tolokonnikova that appears to have prompted the Penintentiary Service's decision to transfer her again today. A translation of the statement reads: "From the moment of my transfer back to colony 14, I have declared a hunger-strike in response to the breaking of my right to personal  safety. I have been transferred to a colony where my safety is threatened.

"I will continue my strike until I am transferred to another correctional facility, in which I will not be persecuted for my complaints and where I will not be threatened.

"I was transferred back to colony 14 through deception. I was shown false documents that said I would be taken to colony 13. I refused to go until I received a official order was presented to me. They stuffed me into a prison truck using force and took me back to colony 14 like a sack of potatoes."

Additional reporting by Patrick Reevell