Jailed Pussy Riot member ends hunger strike

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Associated Press

Posted on October 1, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 1 at 12:03 PM

MOSCOW (AP) — An imprisoned member of the punk band Pussy Riot ended her nine-day hunger strike on Tuesday but her husband said she has vowed to restart it if she is not moved to another prison.

Pyotr Verzilov told The Associated Press that his wife, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, was in stable condition after a hunger strike to protest working conditions in the women's prison where she is serving a two-year sentence.

She and two other members of the group were convicted of hooliganism for performing a provocative "punk prayer" in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in 2012 denouncing Vladimir Putin, who was returning to the Russian presidency.

The Federal Penitentiary Service confirmed that Tolokonnikova ended the hunger strike on Tuesday, two days after she was transferred to a prison hospital. Her lawyer, Irina Khrunova, said her client's deteriorating health had been the main factor in calling off the hunger strike.

In a passionate, five-page letter on Sept. 23, Tolokonnikova described slave-like conditions at Penal Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia region, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Moscow. She said the inmates were working 16-hour days and most weekends sewing police uniforms on machines that required constant repair. Members of brigades that failed to meet their quotas were punished by being denied food, prevented from using the bathroom or made to stand outside in the cold, she wrote.

Tolokonnikova also complained of threats from prison administrators, who she said used prisoners to terrorize their fellow inmates.

Prison authorities have dismissed Tolokonnikova's allegations.

But the end of the hunger strike came the same day as members of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council published reports confirming her description of the working conditions, based on their visit last week to the prison.

Four members of the council detailed dozens of interviews with other inmates, who reiterated many of Tolokonnikova's claims. But they stopped short of supporting her demand to be moved to another penal colony, suggesting instead she be moved to a different division within the prison. They also asserted there was not enough evidence to warrant a criminal investigation into the conduct of prison officials.

Tolokonnikova was expected to remain in the prison hospital for at least several weeks. According to her husband, she will agree to return to Penal Colony No. 14 only If a criminal investigation is opened.

She is due to be released from prison in March.

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