Monday, September 01, 2014


Russia

With Pussy Riot Moving To Penal Colonies, Misery Of Russian Prison Camps Gains Fresh Focus

Pussy Riot members may end up in colonies outside Moscow.
Pussy Riot members may end up in colonies outside Moscow.
By Daisy Sindelar
During the two years that Inna Bazhibina spent in a Russian detention center on contraband charges, she met many women who were transferred on to serve out their sentences in penal colonies.
 
In letters back, her friends wrote of unpleasant conditions and grinding "moral" pressure.
 
But Bazhibina, who recorded her recollections in an essay for Russia's Public Post website, says it may be far worse for Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who are soon to leave relatively comfortable detention cells in Moscow for dismal penal colonies hundreds of kilometers from home.

She predicted the women would be sent to one of Russia's more notorious penal colonies. "These girls are something different, their case has political connotations. They'll get sent to Mordovia -- that will be the order. It's tougher there -- the climate, swamps, mosquitoes," Bazhibina says.
 
"They say that there's always a problem with water there. With water in general," she adds. "The girls [there] give up on hot water altogether. Why do they all have short hair? Because there's a problem with washing their hair. And how will you clean yourself? You have to use the kettle to heat water."
 
Twenty-four-year-old Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, 22, are facing two-year prison sentences for their role in a colorful protest against President Vladimir Putin in a prominent Russian Orthodox cathedral.
 
'Isolation From Society'
 
A judge said the "correction" of the women, who were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," was possible "only in isolation from society." A third Pussy Riot member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on probation last week.
 
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, who both have small children, had asked to serve out their terms in the Moscow detention center, or SIZO, where they have been held since March.
 
But their request was denied, and they are now facing a transfer within weeks to one of 40 women's penal colonies that are part of Russia's massive prison system, where disease, abuse, and recidivism are depressingly commonplace.
 
Federal penitentiary authorities have yet to announce where the Pussy Riot members will be sent. By law, convicts serving more than a six-month sentence must be moved from SIZO centers to colonies close to their place of residence.
 
But speculation is rife that Tolokonnikova, whose permanent residence is in Norilsk, may be sent to one of three penal colonies in Mordovia, some 450 kilometers east of Moscow, which are notorious for their bleak conditions.
 
Alyokhina, a Muscovite, may end up at a colony in either Mozhaisk, 100 kilometers west of the capital, or Shakhovo, 400 kilometers to the southwest.
 
The conditions in Russian penal colonies are considered a vast improvement over the Soviet-era gulag system, the massive network of forced-labor camps run by Stalinist secret police, which exposed inmates to crushing physical work, starvation, and bitter cold.
 
Inmates now work a regulated eight hours, and usually at nonphysical labor, like sewing. They receive a small salary for their work, with which they can buy food, cigarettes, and toiletries. Food and sanitary conditions are theoretically regulated by the state.

(IN PICTURES: Women in Russian penal colonies)
  • A female prison guard watches over inmates in the yard of a prison camp in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.
  • Inmates of a prison camp for women are seen through the razor wire before a "Lady Spring 2009" beauty contest in Selo Gornoye.
  • Inmates look out of a window at the Female Penal Colony No. 3 in Ivanov region.
  • Inmates at the Female Penal Colony No. 3 in the Ivanov region.
  • Convicts at a prison in Nizhny Novgorod.
  • Inmates walk with their children as a guard watches in the courtyard of a "children's home," located inside a female prison camp in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.
  • Inmates at the Female Penal Colony No. 3 in Ivanov region in April 2012.
  • The penal colony near the town of Gubakha, in the Perm region.
  • A detention center in Chita.

But former prisoners and rights activists say that inmates are still subjected to unhealthy conditions, a complete absence of privacy, and a brutal social hierarchy in which younger or more vulnerable convicts are subject to harassment, abuse, and even rape by prison guards or other inmates.
 
Cells in penal colonies can sometimes hold up to 40 women at a time. Bazhibina says for university-educated women like Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, the biggest difficulty may be being thrown into a mix of women with little education and considerable hostility toward more privileged classes.
 
"Eighty percent of the people there are people with whom you really have nothing to talk about. You can talk about nature and the weather. It's better not to go any further than that," Bazhibina says. "One woman, for example, said that sparrows are just little pigeons, that mice are small rats, and that elephants lay eggs. That's the level you're dealing with. When you laugh, the tears flow, because you're seeing a real cross-section of society."
 
Small Children
 
Part of the public outcry over the Pussy Riot case revolves around the fact that young children are involved. Although federal law allows children under the age of 3 to remain with their mothers in penal colonies, the provision is of no help to Alyokhina, who has a 5-year-old son, or Tolokonnikova, whose daughter is 4.
 
Defense lawyers for the two women said on October 16 they had asked for the prison terms to be deferred until the children are 14.
 
But Moscow City Court judges say the fact that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have small children was already taken into account when their sentences were originally handed down.
 
There are also concerns that the Pussy Riot members may be subject to special scrutiny because of their celebrity status -- something that may work to their disadvantage in a demographic that is unusually devout.
 
"These are people who have already gone through all their trials and appeals. God is the only hope they have left," says Bazhibina, adding that Russian state media portrayed the Pussy Riot protest as a religious crime rather than a political statement.
 
Lawyers have repeatedly expressed concern for the safety and well-being of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina if and when they are transferred to penal colonies.
 
Masha Noel, who spent nearly three years in a women's colony in Chelyabinsk for fraud, says much depends on whether prison officials are looking to make an example of their new, high-profile inmates -- and how strong Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova can remain in what will undoubtedly be the difficult first months.
 
"If an instruction is given to 'toughen them up,' then it's going to be hard for them. But on the other hand, we don't have a special place for political prisoners now, and that means for every two terrible guards you'll find eight normal ones," Noel says.
 
"And there's another important point -- people have worked in these places for decades. So these people, fairly often, are more human than people on the outside. A lot of them won't draw any conclusions until they get to know the new arrivals. In short, you need to be strong and survive the initial pressure of the first several months. It happens to everyone, and to girls most of all."

Daisy Sindelar

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: t from: Howell
October 18, 2012 02:05
Argentina Pussy Riot!!!!!!

Play and see.
youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=m8dYxtv7IBc

by: Anonymous
October 18, 2012 08:28
Hummm ....

what about Guantanamo ?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 18, 2012 08:43
Actually, looking at the picture above, one gets a very strong impression that the green outfit with white head-scarves really suits those girls. They really look like some of those models during fashion defilées somewhere in Paris or in Milano.
At any rate, it looks like the ladies will learn to WORK in the labour camp - which will offer them a possible alternative to making senseless noise with guitars, that the RFE/RL for some inexplicable reason prefers to call "music", once they are done with their reeducation and return to civil life.
In Response

by: Aaron from: Germany
October 23, 2012 21:29
Really Eugenio?
Because you don't like their style of music it's terrible right? What if I think the kind of music you like is boring and uninteresting? Is it garbage? Get off your high horse and stop judging people who have different perspective than you do.

And REALLY? Their "reeducation"? You realize that Stalin and Hitler used those same words when it came to interning people in prison camps right?

Your ignorance is appalling.

by: D from: Here
October 18, 2012 10:53
Can the Russian's come over to the UK and run our prisons, at least they have a good idea what to treat convicts like

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
October 18, 2012 14:31
I want to remind the ladies and gentlemen that when Hitler began to build concentration camps, he used the experience of the Russian labor camps.
Russian penal system is aimed at the suppression of the individual and to destroy the personality..
To work in the Russian concentration camps hiring maniacs and other pathological scum who tortured prisoners and come up with new kinds of torture..
during transportation from the prison to a concentration camp
also apply sophisticated torture-people are not given go to the toilet, they are tortured with cold..
Many people commit suicide, maniacs guards also kill innocent people..It is clear that Putin's concentration camps far worse Nazi camps..
and where the "great peacemaker" -European Union??..
Ay-oo-oo-oo gentlemen, where you are??
In Response

by: Aaron from: Germany
October 23, 2012 21:31
It's the European Union's job to un-screw the situation in the RF?

Plus, Russia would never allow the EU to meddle in their affairs.

by: Peter from: New Zealand
October 22, 2012 11:19
A very harsh sentence for these women for what is a minor crime in any civilised Western country. Just goes to show nothing much has changed since the downfall of the communists. Tough guy Putin really has a thin skin after-all.

by: Mark from: Victoria
October 22, 2012 19:17
It's terrible that "university-educated" Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina might be thrown together with nutjobs who think that elephants lay eggs! This truly does seem like "the biggest difficulty", and their intellectual potential was obviously much better realized by their squatting in deserted basements and stealing food from supermarkets to feed themselves. Prison is going to be a big shock - what a waste of such brilliant and productive minds.

Quite possibly their previous creative outlets like simulations of hanging themselves will not be permitted in prison, and when they get out they will have to relearn hanging motionless and completely silent all over again. I can see where that might be challenging. But this way, they will probably get an opportunity to learn how to actually play an instrument - you never know when that might come in handy. And although prison will offer few opportunities for them to have sex in public, I've been told once you get the hang of that, it's just like riding a bike, you never forget.

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