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Pussy Riot Member Was Approaching 'Unrecoverable Damage'

'She was extremely weak and she had a bad infection,' a source close to the musician says

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages
October 3, 2013 12:30 PM ET

According to Russian parliamentary deputy Ilya Ponomarev, doctors feared for jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's life after her recent hunger strike. The deputy met with Tolokonnikova on Tuesday, the first time anyone from outside the prison has seen her in almost a week.

"She was extremely weak and she had a bad infection, which was very visible – she had a bad rash on her skin," Ponomarev tells Rolling Stone. He says the infection could not be treated while Tolokonnikova wasn't eating, because of health concerns surrounding taking antibiotics without food.

"She was very bad," he adds. "They were saying that unrecoverable damage was approaching, and I think they were right."

Tolokonnikova said yesterday she is not ending, but suspending her nine-day hunger strike after Russian authorities promised to transfer her to another prison. The 23-year-old activist explained in a statement passed orally to her defense team that her severely weakened health no longer allows her to continue to strike.

"I am not ending my hunger strike, I am suspending it temporarily because my physical condition is now very bad and there are the beginnings of health complications," read the message distributed by her husband Peter Verzilov.

The activist went on to say that she is only ending her strike on the condition that the authorities fulfill a promise to transfer her to another penal colony. Tolokonnikova's lawyers today repeated their formal request that she be moved.

Tolokonnikova began refusing food in protest at conditions in the penal colony, where she is serving a two-year sentence, complaining that the camp’s administration breached Russian law by making prisoners work 16 hours a day. She also accused a prison official of making a death threat toward her.

Ponomarev adds that it is "pretty likely" that Tolokonnikova will be moved, saying that the authorities would have to compromise given the precarious state of her health. "They're very afraid," Ponomarev says. "They don't want her to die in the prison."

Last week, a preliminary review of the camp by the Presedential Human Rights Council, Russia's top official human rights body, supported several of Tolokonnikova's claims about the prison conditions. Local detectives announced today that they were extending the period of their investigation of Tolokonnikova's claims at the camp.

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