Punk rock band faces prison hell in Russia

Prosecutor says band members who pulled protest stunt deserve ‘isolation from society’

Image Credit: AP
Feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. Three members of the group were jailed in March and charged with hooliganism
Gulf News

Moscow: If a Moscow judge sends the three young Pussy Riot punk rockers to a corrective labour facility on Friday, they could face the harshest conditions possible for jailed women, sharing barracks with more than 100 others.

The state prosecutor said the women deserved “isolation from society” for staging a protest stunt against President Vladimir Putin in a cathedral, saying they should serve three years in a penal colony with a “general regime”.

Ringed with high fences, barbed wire and watchtowers and set in the countryside, more than 40 such corrective labour colonies around Russia currently house about 59,000 women.

As soon as they enter, prisoners must exchange their civilian clothes for a baggy green uniform with their name marked on the chest.

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich could then find themselves sewing uniforms for prisoners, soldiers or police - the most common line of work.

Less than half of prisoners are assigned any labour, however, and those who do can earn as little as 100 to 500 rubles ($3 to $16) per month, Yelena Gordeyeva of the Moscow-based rights group Prison and Freedom, said.

Women sleep in barracks holding 100-120 people, she added, saying that many coveted jobs to simply kill time.

Their long day begins at 6.00am and is punctuated by periodic roll calls that only move indoors if the temperature falls to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit).

Communicating with loved ones is problematic as well.

Women can usually call home only once a month, with each conversation limited to 15 minutes.

Officials are not obliged to send them to colonies in the Moscow region even if that is where they were convicted, meaning that both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina could be sent far from their families even though they have young children.

As well as such regular hardships, the women risk encountering violence from prison officers.

In October, the deputy governor of a women’s colony in the Far Eastern Amur region was captured on video hitting and kicking two prisoners.

He was later given only a suspended sentence. His case has now gone to retrial after a public outcry.

The women’s time in jail will also depend on their relations with wardens, rights observers say.

Each colony offers prisoners three different levels of custody: general, light or harsh, depending on how their behaviour is assessed by prison officials.

The ordinary level allows prisoners to meet family members for six short visits and four long visits, including overnight stays, per year.

More favoured prisoners under “light” custody enjoy supplementary visits and unrestricted purchases of food and toiletries.

Those under strict custody for violations such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or refusing to obey staff, are held in isolation cells.

They are forbidden to make phone calls or have visitors, and are only allowed out each day for exercise breaks.

The jailed former oil tycoon and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, viewed as a political prisoner by his Western and Russia supporters, ended up in isolation for offering some of his food to other inmates.