Pussy Riot Member Hunger Striking Over Brutal Prison ConditionsS

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the two Pussy Riot members still in a Russian prison for the crime of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," is on hunger strike starting today in order to protest her living conditions. In a lengthy open letter to the Guardian explaining her strike, Tolokonnikova claims that the first year in her two-year sentence has been hellish, beginning with the head administrator of her penal colony telling her upon arrival: "You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist."

Tolokonnikova says she and other prisoners are forced to work in sewing shops for 16 to 17 hours a day, from 7:30 AM to 12:30 AM. "At best, we get four hours of sleep a night," she writes. "We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday."

Even worse sounding are the punishments doled out to prisoners who cross the authorities:

Prisoners are forced to "stay in the lokalka [a fenced-off passageway between two areas in the camp] until lights out" (the prisoner is forbidden to go into the barracks — whether it be autumnl or winter. In the second brigade, consisting of the disabled and elderly, there was a woman who ended up getting such bad frostbite after a day in the lokalka they had to amputate her fingers and one of her feet); "lose hygiene privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to wash themselves or use the bathroom); "lose commissary and tea-room privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to eat their own food, or drink beverages). It's both funny and frightening when a 40-year-old woman tells you: "Looks like we're being punished today! I wonder whether we're going to be punished tomorrow, too." She can't leave the sewing workshop to pee or get a piece of candy from her purse. It's forbidden.

For all of her hardships, Tolokonnikova admits that her fame has kept her relatively safe in a prison that sometimes finds inmates beaten to death with the full approval of the administration. "If you weren't Tolokonnikova, you would have had the shit kicked out of you a long time ago," she says a fellow prisoner told her.

Tolokonnikova concludes her letter by stating that beginning today she will not take food or participate in the prison's labor program, saying, "I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle ejected from the realm of justice for the purpose of stoking the production of the sewing industry; until they start treating us like humans."

[Image via AP]