UK
23/09/2013 17:09 BST | Updated 24/09/2013 14:44 BST

Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Describes Depravity Of 'Stalinist' Work Camp

Pussy Riot's youngest member has described the "Stalinist" conditions in the Mordovia work camp where she is imprisoned, seeing other prisoners stripped naked and beaten to death.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, one of two of the band still imprisoned for storming the altar at Moscow's Cathedral to perform an anti-Putin "punk prayer" has vowed to go on hunger strike until her rights are respected, in a powerful open letter.

"I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves," she wrote, describing seeing middle aged women forced to work even with a high fever, and women punched repeatedly in the stomach and kidneys.

nadezhda tolokonnikova

One of the jailed members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot,' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

She alleges that when she first arrived at Penal Colony No 14 in the Mordovian village of Parts, she was greeted deputy chief of the penal colony, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who told her: "You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist."

Tolokonnikova alleged she is forced to work up to 17 hours a day, from 7.30am till past midnight with four hours sleep a night. She says she earns the equivalent of 57p per month, with the brigade sewing the uniforms of 150 police officers per day.

She said an unofficial system of punishments included prisoners being forced to stand outside in the freezing winter, forbidden to wash themselves or go to the bathroom, forbidden to eat or drink the food of their choice.

"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 [ the area where prisoners stand outside] they had to amputate her fingers and one of her feet."

"Your hands are pierced with needle-marks and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still, you keep sewing," she describes.

"If you weren't Tolokonnikova, you would have had the shit kicked out of you a long time ago," a fellow prisoner with close ties to the administration told her, Tolokonnikova alleges.

The Huffington Post UK interviews Pussy Riot's Katia Samutsevich

"It's true: others are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Prisoners themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them is done without the approval and full knowledge of the administration. A year ago, before I came here, a gypsy woman in the third unit was beaten to death.

"She died in the medical unit of PC-14. The administration was able to cover it up: the official cause of death was a stroke.

"In another unit, new seamstresses who couldn't keep up were undressed and forced to sew naked.

Just recently, a young woman got stabbed in the head with a pair of scissors because she didn't turn in a pair of pants on time. Another tried to cut her own stomach open with a hacksaw. They stopped her."

Tolokonnikova describes the working conditions as only fit for "filthy animals".

"We are allowed to wash our hair once a week. However, even this bathing day gets cancelled. A pump will break or the plumbing will be stopped up. At times, my unit was unable to bathe for two to three weeks.

"When the plumbing breaks down, urine splashes and clumps of faeces fly out of the hygiene rooms."

The prisoners are fed only "stale bread, heavily watered-down milk, exclusively rusted millet and rotten potatoes. This summer, they brought in sacks of slimy, black potatoes in bulk. Then they fed them to us."

But her main complaint is not the harsh conditions, but the corruption and sadistic nature of the officials, Tolokonnikova says. "They use collective punishment: you complain there's no hot water, and they turn it off entirely."

"It is possible to tolerate anything as long as it only affects you. But the method of collective punishment is bigger than that. It means that your unit, or even the entire colony, is required to endure your punishment along with you.

"This includes, worst of all, people you've come to care about. One of my friends was denied parole, for which she had been awaiting seven years, working hard to exceed her work quotas. She was reprimanded for drinking tea with me."

"Therefore, beginning 23 September, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labor. 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."