Amnesty demands disclosure of imprisoned Pussy Riot member's location

Ati Metwaly, Friday 8 Nov 2013

Amnesty International calls on Russia to disclose whereabouts of imprisoned Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, member of punk band Pussy Riot

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of female punk band, ''Pussy Riot'', gestures as she sits behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow June 20, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

According to sources, it is possible that Tolokonnikova, one of the Pussy Riot, punk band members, has been moved to a new colony in Siberia. If those facts turn true, it might be almost impossible for the relatives and her lawyer, Irina Khrunova, to visit Tolokonnikova.

"Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s whereabouts have been unknown since 22 October when she was reportedly taken from the penal colony, where she was serving a two-year prison sentence. It is believed she is being transferred to another place, but the destination has not been revealed. Her husband [Pyotr Verzilov] has now said a penitentiary administration source informed him of the possible move to a prison colony in Siberia,” Amnesty International said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Calling her "a prisoner of conscience," Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International, said that Tolokonnikova complained that prior to the move, she had been receiving threats from prison officials. "We are concerned that she now may be being punished for this and for speaking out about deplorable prison conditions,” Krivosheev added.

According to Reuters, Tolokonnikova started a hunger strike in September, demanding a transfer from a prison where she said that an official had threatened her life and that inmates faced inhumane conditions including 17-hour work days.

Prison authorities said on 10 October that Tolokonnikova would be moved. Khrunova said there were indications that she had been transferred to a prison in Siberia, which is about 3,600 km (2,250 miles) east of Moscow. However, she was unable to confirm.

Tolokonnikova is serving a two-year prison sentence for performing a “punk prayer" at the altar of Moscow's Cathedral in February 2012. The song called on the Virgin Mary to free the country from its current president, Vladimir Putin. The lyrics include a few curses inserted in between the three protagonists of the song: Putin, Patriarch Kirill and the Virgin Mary – who is asked to save Russia from the previous two.

Three Pussy Riot members were arrested and in August, Moscow's Khamovnicheskii District Court had charged them with “hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred,” sentencing Maria Alekhina, 24, Ekaterina Samutsevich, 29, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23 to two years in a penal colony.

In 2012, Amnesty International was among many commentators who described the verdict as an attack on freedom of expression. In its official statement, issued on 17 August immediately after the ruling, Amnesty International said that "the trial of the Pussy Riot defendants was politically motivated… they [three of the Pussy Riot's members] were wrongfully prosecuted for what was a legitimate – if potentially offensive – protest action."

Following the verdict, many renowned international artists responded with outrage, demanding the immediate release of the Pussy Riot members. Reuters pointed to the fact that many Western governments have equally called the two-year sentences excessive, and that Kremlin critics denounced the charges as part of a clampdown on dissent under Putin, who won a third term as president a week after the Pussy Riot protest.

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