Pussy Riot members set up prisoners' rights centre

13th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

Released Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina on Thursday launched a centre to defend prisoners' rights in the region where one of the women served her sentence.

The women gave a news conference in the city of Saransk in the Mordovia region around 320 miles (510 kilometres) southeast of Moscow, notorious for its high concentration of penal colonies.

They are setting up an office within a complex of penal colonies, according to the website of their new centre, www.zonaprava.info.

Tolokonnikova spent most of her two-year sentence for hooliganism in Mordovia's No. 14 penal colony for women. She went on hunger strike several times to highlight "slave labour" conditions.

"We have talked a lot about these camps, what the situation is in various areas and we came to the conclusion that Mordovia needs a rights office more than anyone," Alyokhina said in a video posted by local news website Pro Gorod Saransk.

"They can beat you or finally beat you to death and no one will know about it... Everything is really bad here and we hope to work on this," she said.

"It's important to note that here our activity is strictly to support human rights, added Tolokonnikova.

Tolokonnikova said that Mordovia "has probably the most scary network of camps, and we know that from experience."

The director of the centre is a former senior prison service psychologist, Vladimir Rubashny.

"People are being turned into cattle, they are forced to become even worse and therefore the re-offending rate is one of the highest in the world," Rubashny said.

"I would really like the situation in Mordovia to change although there is a huge amount of work to do."

The centre has a hotline number for those who suffered prison abuse or their relatives and offers legal advice.

The two members of the punk band Pussy Riot were convicted for a performance critical of President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral in 2012. They had almost served their sentences in full when they were freed under a general amnesty in December.

Since leaving prison, the women have travelled widely and in February took part in Amnesty International fundraising concert in New York with Madonna.

Later that month Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were questioned by police and whipped by Cossacks as they made a video in the Winter Olympics host city of Sochi. They were also fined for attending a Moscow opposition protest.


© 2014 AFP

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