Pussy Riot punk goes back on hunger strike

18th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

Pussy Riot punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has gone back on hunger strike to protest her transfer back to a penal colony from hospital, her husband said, as concern grows for her weakening health.

Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving a two-year sentence in a penal colony in the Mordovia region of central Russia for the band's protest against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow church.

On September 23 she began an eight-day hunger strike demanding to be moved to another penal colony over "slave-labour" conditions. It ended with her being taken to a hospital run by the prison service and placed on a drip.

"Currently Nadezhda is in the sick bay of Penal Colony Number 14 and as she promised earlier, she is resuming her hunger strike over her transfer back to the colony," her husband, activist Pyotr Verzilov, said in a letter sent to AFP.

The regional prison service confirmed in a statement on its website that Tolokonnikova was "refusing to take food."

It said she had been transferred back to the penal colony from a hospital on Thursday and was now under observation of prison doctors.

Her bandmate Maria Alyokhina, 23, at a Friday court hearing withdrew a request for a softening of her punishment, in solidarity with Tolokonnikova.

"I don't have the moral right to go to court when my friend Nadezhda Tolokonnikova doesn't have such a chance," Alyokhina said in court, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

She was speaking before she knew of Tolokonnikova's renewed hunger strike.

Tolokonnikova's supporters expressed concerns about her health.

"A hunger strike is an awful destructive method. She can seriously damage her health," rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva told AFP.

"I am always against hunger strikes but I understand that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova simply does not have other ways to attract attention to her demands."

Kremlin rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin complained to Moscow Echo radio station on Friday that the prison service had promised him it would consider transferring her if she halted her hunger strike.

"The leadership of the prison service deceived me," he said.

A group from the presidential council on human rights, an advisory body, will travel to the penal colony to hold a meeting, member Ilya Shablinsky told Moscow Echo radio station.

Tolokonnikova began last month's hunger strike after releasing a letter complaining that women at the penal colony were treated like "slaves" and worked 17-hour days in a sewing workshop.

The philosophy student also said the deputy prison governor had hinted she could be killed by inmates if she complained about abuses in her penal colony, in a region dotted with camps dating back to the Soviet Gulag

The letter caused an outcry, even prompting the prison governor and his deputy to go on prime-time state television to deny Tolokonnikova's accusations.

Human Rights Watch called Tolokonnikova's account "extremely serious and disturbing."

The two jailed Pussy Riot members, both of whom have young children, are due to be released in March after being found guilty of hooliganism over their performance that criticised the Russian Orthodox Church's close links to Putin.

Both women have had two requests for parole turned down.

A third Pussy Riot member, 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich, had her sentence changed to a suspended one after her lawyer argued she was detained before she could take part in the protest.


© 2013 AFP

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