Punk rocker rages against 'slave mentality' in Russian jail

One of two jailed members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, says she is battling the 'slave mentality' in her prison camp and has received death threats due to her activism.

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MOSCOW // One of two jailed members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, said yesterday she was battling the "slave mentality" in her prison camp and had received death threats due to her activism.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, about her first months at Corrective Labour Colony No 28 in the Perm region, Maria Alyokhina, 24, told how hard it was to see what the country's penitentiary system did to inmates.

"The hardest thing? It's to realise how this system works, how it forms a slave mentality in people, how people fall into line," she said in the interview published yesterday.

"These are not isolated incidents, these are mass incidents and there are practically no exceptions," she said. "Rudeness, cowardice, treachery and denunciations, this is the norm."

Alyokhina, a slight figure with curly hair, said she had requested a meeting with a regional rights ombudsman and told him that female prisoners had to wash themselves with cold water while their boots and head scarves were not warm enough to withstand the temperatures of minus30C.

"The thing is, no one likes this but I was the only one who went to rights activists, representatives of (Russia's) Public Monitoring Commissions" watchdogs, she said.

"Everyone's afraid of going to them," she said.

After spending time in the quarantine quarters upon arrival she was moved to a cell with repeat offenders who she said had threatened to kill her.

"The essence (of the threats) was: 'if you remain in this unit you are dead'."

Speaking to Novaya Gazeta, two of Alyokhina's fellow inmates said the young woman had insulted them when she told them that their rights were violated.

"We told her: who are you, you came her to decide our fate, tell us how we live, who are you?" Nonna (Valentina) Ivanova, a 42-year-old who spent 22 years in jails, told the newspaper.

After the conflict, Alyokhina was in November moved to solitary confinement where she cooks for herself.

"I believe it is better for her not to leave the safe place," said Ivanova. "There's a lot of people here, and everyone's against her, everyone. They can do something to her."

Alyokhina claimed the two women who had threatened her co-operated with the prison administration, adding she would continue speaking out against the violation of prisoners' rights.

"I will overcome everything, nothing will happen to me. If they put pressure on me, I will declare a hunger strike and will be thrown into a punishment cell," said Alyokhina.

Her bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is serving her sentence in the central region of Mordovia, known for its network of Soviet-era camps, sounded stoic about the conditions in her prison.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, both of whom have small children, are serving a two-year sentence for the group's anti-Vladimir Putin performance in the country's top church last year.