The three members of Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison in a trial that attracted worldwide attention are asking the warden of their pretrial detention center to let them serve out their time in Moscow instead of at a remote penal colony hundreds of miles away.
More than 2,000 prisoners have died in or en route to Russian prisons in just the last six months, according to Russia’s prosecutor general. And the young women’s lawyers, who do not expect an Oct. 1 appeal of their August sentence for hooliganism to be successful, have received threatening messages from prison employees.
“We have been promised that the colonies ‘would be prepared’ to receive our clients. There is only one reading of it: their lives are in danger,” Violetta Volkova, a lawyer for the group, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning from Washington, D.C., where she was preparing to receive a John Lennon award on behalf of Pussy Riot from Yoko Ono.
Volkova said she was afraid that anything, “from rape to murder,” could transpire in the remote women’s prisons. The transportation stage from Moscow to a penal colony, known as the “etap” and filled with its own hazing rituals, is what rights defenders fear most. Twenty or more prisoners are packed into train compartments meant for four people, and such trips can last several days.
“The train stops at every jail along the way. The most violence takes place on the train and during the transit stops,” said Lev Ponamaryov, the leader of the For Human Rights movement, which monitors violations in Russian prisons.
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