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Pussy Riot members sent to prison camps

It remains unclear when the women will reach their destination

  • AFP
  • Published: 17:50 October 22, 2012
  • Gulf News

Moscow: Two Pussy Riot feminist punk band members have been taken to remote Russian prison camps after a court upheld their two-year sentences for mocking President Vladimir Putin in church, their lawyer said Monday.

“Nadya Tolokonnikova has been sent to Mordovia, and Maria Alyokhina to Perm,” defence lawyer Violetta Volkova told AFP.

The Perm region in the Urals mountains and Mordovia in central Russia host a vast network of prison camps dating back to the Soviet era and infamous for their tough conditions.

“They were convoyed on Saturday,” Volkova said, adding that their relatives had learnt of the move when their parcels for the women were rejected at the Moscow prison where they had been temporarily held.

It remains unclear when the two young women, who both have small children, will reach their final destination, Volkova added.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, activist Pyotr Verzilov, told the Moscow Echo radio station that according to his unconfirmed information, the women were not sent by train as is usual but “were sent by air in special flights.”

A Twitter account organised by the band also said the two members were taken in a “special” convoy to the prison camps, but gave no details.

“Of all the possible options, these are the cruellest prison camps,” the Twitter account @pussy_riot noted.

The art group Voina (War), which is closely affiliated with Pussy Riot, on Twitter called Mordovia “the worst prison hell there is.”

The capital of the Perm region, Perm, is around 1,400 km from Moscow, while the regional capital of Mordovia, Saransk, is around 640 km from Moscow.

The Perm region, where temperatures can fall as low as minus 50 degrees Celcius in winter, housed Stalin-era labour camps, one of which has been turned into a museum about the history of political repression.

Mordovia is a region dotted with lakes that is chiefly known for its prison camps dating back to the Stalin era. In the 1930s and 1940s, the prison population here numbered 23,000 prisoners, according to the regional prison service’s website.

The region now has 17 prison camps, the prison service said.

The choice of distant camps appears to be deliberate to make it harder for the public to follow what happens to the women, rights activist Lev Ponomaryov told Moscow Echo.

“Evidently the women have been sent to distant colonies so it’s harder for the Pussy Riot members to contact relatives and lawyers, and also it’s harder for the public to check on their fate,” said the leader of For Human Rights group.

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and their bandmate Yekaterina Samutsevich were in August sentenced to two years in prison after they staged a balaclava-clad performance inside Moscow’s main cathedral mocking President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this month a Russian appeals court upheld the prison camp sentences against Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina but unexpectedly ordered the release of Samutsevich in what many observers believe was an attempt to split the tight-knit band.

Samutsevich told AFP in an interview ahead of the women’s departure that they were calmly preparing for a transfer that they saw as inevitable after their failed appeal.

“They understand that they will soon go to the (prison) colony. They are packing their things,” she said.

“In principle they are ready for it. They are not upset about it. We all expected that the colony would happen, we all knew it, so it’s OK, they just know that they need to go soon.”

– AFP

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