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September 24, 2013

Pussy Riot Member Put in Isolation After Threat of Hunger Strike

Russian authorities say they have moved a jailed member of the anti-Kremlin all-female punk band Pussy Riot to an isolation cell after she launched a hunger strike to protest harsh conditions and threats to her life.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova declared a hunger strike in a letter published Monday. Tolokonnikova said inmates at the Number 14 prison in Mordovia, where she is serving her term, were forced to work up to 17 hours a day in a shop sewing uniforms. She also complained of receiving threats from both prison officials and other inmates.

Tolokonnikova said the prison's regime is designed to turn convicts into "silent slaves," and that inmates accused of violating prison rules are often beaten, denied food and water, and forbidden to use the toilet. She also said the prison's deputy warden threatened her last month, telling her "things never will be bad for you because nothing is bad in the hereafter."

Prison officials say Tolokonnikova has been moved to an isolated room that is equipped with a bed, refrigerator and toilet facilities. An official told Interfax news agency that she is not presently working and that food is being brought to her despite her hunger strike, adding that her intake is being monitored.

The 23-year-old Tolokonnikova is halfway through a two-year sentence for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. She and two other members of Pussy Riot performed an unauthorized "punk prayer" against Russian President Vladimir Putin on the altar of Russia's most prominent Orthodox church.

Tolokonnikova and another member of the group, Maria Alyokhina, received two-year sentences in penal colonies. A third band member received a suspended sentence.

Alyokhina has also complained of unfair treatment and harassment at her penal colony, located in Russia's Perm region.