Russia Must Investigate Prison Abuse Allegations by Pussy Riot

Press Release
September 25, 2013

Russia Must Investigate Prison Abuse Allegations by Pussy Riot

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - 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. Tolokonnikova also alleged that she had received death threats from a senior prison official and later from some inmates.

"The prison administration claimed that Nadezhda 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," said Sergei Nikitin, director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office. "What authorities should do is investigate the allegations she made."

"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," said Nikitin. "The Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the activists and quash all charges against them."

Prison authorities have denied 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. Tolokonnikova told her lawyer that she is held in freezing conditions, with access to cold water only and very dim light. She also said internal prison rules prevent her from sitting on her bed during the day.

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.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.