Pussy Riot Protester Disappears Inside Russia's Prisons, May Be in Siberia

After complaints of prison mistreatment and a hunger strike, the punk Putin critic has been missing for 17 days.

Pussy Riot Member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Disappears Inside Russia's Prisons, May Be in Siberia

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of punk band Pussy Riot, gestures behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow April 19, 2012. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

TakePart News Editor Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is a journalist who has worked in many corners of the world for major news organizations.

A high profile prisoner has disappeared while being held in a Russian prison—and no Houdini-esque escape is suspected.

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has been missing for 17 days while in custody—and her husband fears she has been sent deep into the gulags of Siberia.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, her husband Peter Verzilov says the punk singer who dared criticize Russian leadership is no longer being held at Penal Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow.

She's believed to have been transferred to an unknown camp near Krasnoyarsk, 2,600 miles east of Moscow—a site her supporters suggest was chosen as punishment for her nine-day hunger strike to protest horrifying prison conditions

"Every single inmate's family has the right to know where they are and when they're there—it's absolutely fundamental," says Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Russian prisoners have disappeared before, but typically the crimes are much more serious than Tolokonnikova's, like Chechnyan prisoners of war, said Denber. 

"They should have told (her husband) from the very beginning where they were sending her," said Denber, noting that Russia's prisons are notoriously bureaucratic and it can take time for prisoners to be processed at various checkpoints along the train ride east. But a destination is a fact that the prison system should know regardless of any delays to getting there.

Tolokonnikova and bandmate, Mariya Aloykhina, were sentenced to two years in prison for an August 2012 performance of a punk song that is critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin inside a Moscow cathedral. Bandmember Ekaterina Samutsevich was released with a suspended sentence in October 2012.

If nothing else, the uncertainty of her whereabouts certainly raises concern that something is wrong, considering her captivity was intended to silence her. 

"Any time someone goes missing for 17 days I think it’s only natural that people would have serious fears and have very well-grounded fears," said Denber.

As yet, Tolokonnikova's husband is relying on unofficial sources who have spotted her in the prison system.

"It’s completely outrageous and contrary to international norms, that the whereabouts of a family member are not made known—officially—to loved ones," Denber added.

For the past five days, her husband has been picketing the prison service's headquarters in Moscow for information.

Under Russian law, the system has 10 days to notify family members of a prisoner's movement.

We're pretty sure Russian prison officials won't be sent to a Siberian gulag for the violation.

 

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