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Pussy Riot Member Starts Hunger Strike Over 'Slave Labor' Conditions

Jailed rocker says prison official threatened her life

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages
September 23, 2013 10:20 AM ET

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has begun a hunger strike to protest what she has described as "slave labor" conditions in her Russian penal colony. The imprisoned punk rocker also says she received a death threat from a prison official, Reuters reports. 

"Beginning September 23rd, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labor,"  Tolokonnikova wrote in a letter that was distributed by her husband. She continued, "I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle." 

Pussy Riot Members Condemn Putin's Oil Ties

Tolokonnikova and her bandmates were sentenced to two years in prison in August 2012 after performing what the band calls a "punk prayer" protest against President Vladmir Putin inside Moscow's main cathedral. 

Tolokonnikova claims that inmates are forced to work up to 17 hours a day sewing police uniforms, and that prison officials use senior inmates to enforce an order system reminiscent of Soviet-era labor camps. 

She says conditions also fail to meet human rights standards. "Your hands are pierced with needles and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still you keep sewing."

Tolokonnikova also said she asked the regional arm of the federal Investigative Committee to investigate a senior official who told her, "You will surely never feel bad again because it is never bad in the other world," after Tolokonnikova complained about the conditions. 

Pussy Riot's protest has gained widespread attention and support in the West from artists including Paul McCartney and Madonna.

Tolokonnikova and fellow band member Maria Alyokhina are due for release in March. A third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed on appeal last year

Alyokhina went on a hunger strike earlier this year after officials prohibited her from attending her parole hearing. The punk rocker was hospitalized and ended her protest after officials agreed to meet her demands.

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