Pussy Riot Prisoners Sent to Soviet-Era Camps

Sarah Cobarrubias

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have been sent to camps in Perm and Mordovia, though the exact locations have been withheld. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/GettyImages
The two remain­ing pris­on­ers from the activist punk band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhi­na, 24, and Nadezh­da Tolokon­niko­va, 22, have been sent to penal colonies to serve the remain­der of their two-year prison sen­tences, which are sched­uled to end in March 2014. Pussy Riot tweet­ed Mon­day that the prison camps they were sent to “are the harsh­est camps of all the pos­si­ble choic­es.”
The women were sen­tenced to two years in jail last month after being con­vict­ed of “hooli­gan­ism moti­vat­ed by reli­gious hatred” for a Feb­ru­ary protest in which they burst into Moscow’s main cathe­dral and per­formed a “punk prayer.” The song called for the Vir­gin Mary to rid Rus­sia of Vladimir Putin, who was begin­ning a con­tro­ver­sial March elec­tion that would lead him to his third term as the pres­i­dent of Russia—despite Rus­si­a’s two-term lim­it.Dur­ing an Octo­ber 10 appeal hear­ing, the judge decid­ed that Alyokhi­na and Tolokon­niko­va should fin­ish out their two-year sen­tences, despite the women’s insis­tence that their actions were polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed. A third jailed mem­ber, Yeka­te­ri­na Samut­se­vich, has her sen­tence sus­pend­ed on the basis that she played a small­er role in the protest.On Mon­day, defense lawyer Vio­let­ta Volko­va told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Alyokhi­na was sent to a wom­en’s prison camp in the Siber­ian region of Perm, while Tolokon­niko­va was sent to a camp in Mor­dovia, in cen­tral Rus­sia. AFP news explains: 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. … The Perm region, where tem­per­a­tures can fall as low as minus 50 degrees Cel­sius 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 40s, the prison pop­u­la­tion here num­bered 23,000 pris­on­ers, accord­ing to the region­al prison ser­vice’s web­site.The prison camps are also notably far from Moscow, where the women had peti­tioned to serve their sen­tences in order to stay close their fam­i­lies. Tolokon­niko­va has a 4‑year-old daugh­ter named Gera, and Alyokhi­na has a 5‑year-old son, Fil­ipp. Mor­dovia is about 400 miles from Moscow, while Perm is about 900 miles away. Lev Pono­mary­ov of the For Human Rights move­ment tells the 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.”As if this didn’t already seem like the plot of a Sovi­et spy nov­el, The Guardian reports that the pub­lic and the women’s fam­i­lies and lawyers are in the dark about the wom­en’s cur­rent where­abouts and spe­cif­ic prison-camp des­ti­na­tions. 
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