The Russian prison authorities’ decision to move an imprisoned member of the punk band Pussy Riot to solitary confinement after she complained about prison conditions is yet another sign of suppression of any form of free speech in the country, Amnesty International said.
The decision came after Nadezhda Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike and wrote an open letter describing the abuses in her prison colony, including inmates being forced to work extremely long hours in “slave-like” conditions. Nadezhda also alleged that she had received death threats from a senior prison official and later from some inmates.
“The prison administration claimed that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had been placed in isolation for her own protection, but we are concerned this could be yet another punishment for demanding that her own rights and the rights of other inmates are respected. What authorities should do is investigate the allegations she made,” said Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International’s office in Moscow.
“The case against members of the band Pussy Riot has been consistently outrageous from start to finish, and sought nothing other than to undermine the band members’ right to freedom of expression. The Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the activists and quash all charges against them.”
Prison authorities have denied Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s allegations of abuse. The prison administration has also claimed that the conditions in the solitary cell were better than in a shared one. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, however, told her lawyer that she is held in freezing conditions, with access to cold water only and very dim lighting. She also said internal prison rules prevent her from sitting on her bed during the day.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and one other member of the group Pussy Riot are currently serving two-year sentences. Nadezhda is held in a penal colony in Mordovia and Maria Alekhina in Nizhnii Novgorod. They were convicted under the charges of “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred” after they had performed a protest song in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012.
The sentence against a third Pussy Riot member, Ekaterina Samutsevich, was suspended on appeal. However, she too had spent many months in detention while awaiting trial.