Pussy Riot launches a prisoners rights center in Russia, demands freedom in Wisconsin

#SolidarityWisconsin from The Voice Project on Vimeo.

Pussy Riot is opening a prisoners rights center in Russia and engaging in transnational solidarity with… Wisconsin. 

Thursday, released (Ed note: former) Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina launched a center for prisoners’ rights in Mordovia, a  region 320 miles southeast of Moscow, which is notorious for its numerous and cruel penal colonies. It was in Mordovia’s Penal Colony No 14  that Tolokonnikova spent the majority of her two-year sentence. As a prisoner there, she went on hunger strike on more than one occasion to protest the “slavery-like conditions.” Tolokonnikova estimates that Mordovia “has probably the most scary network of camps, and we know that from experience…our activity is strictly to support human rights.” And Alyokhina explains, ”We have talked a lot about these camps, what the situation is in various areas and we came to the conclusion that Mordovia needs a rights office more than anyone…. They can beat you or finally beat you to death and no one will know about it…”

The center, whose director Vladimir Rubashny is a former prison psychologist, has a hotline for the victims of prison abuse as well as their relatives and offers legal advice. Rubashny said, ”People are being turned into cattle, they are forced to become even worse and therefore the re-offending rate is one of the highest in the world….”I would really like the situation in Mordovia to change although there is a huge amount of work to do.”

But Pussy Riot isn’t limiting itself to its home turf. Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are urging Wisconsin’s Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to drop the cases against over 400 people arrested last summer for singing in the Capitol rotunda to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan attack on public workers’ collective bargaining rights. The two members appear in a video released on Tuesday and say (in Russian):

Solidarity with Wisconsin. Use music to change the world in the direction you want it to change. Music touches people and makes them act…. Solidarity forever.

You can show your solidarity and support here

It would be relatively easy for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina  to leave Russia, since they case attracted attention from media, human rights organizations and celebrities around the world. And yet they remain in their country, where, just last week, they were attacked in a McDonalds is Moscow by men who threw garbage and paint on them and told them to “go to America.” During the Sochi Games, they were beaten, punched and whipped by Cossacks working for the Russian government. But they remain. It would also be easy to stay focused on Russia, where they have their work cut out for them. But they are engaging in transnational solidarity. And their focus on Wisconsin reminds us that, for all our condemnation of Russia and blind American exceptionalism, our own country is no stranger to state violence.

To learn more about Pussy Riot, check out Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer for Freedom. Part of the proceeds of the book, published by Feminist Press, will go support Pussy Riot.

Related:

Photo of the Day: Pussy Riot attacked with whips and tear gas near Sochi Olympics

Pussy Riot members released from prison: “Everything is just starting, so fasten your seat belt”

Pussy Riot releases first song since members arrested

Russia’s “Pussy Riot” remain in jail

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PM Katie Halper is looking forward to hearing about what Pussy Riot does next. 

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 14, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    It really bothers me that the author talks about Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina as Pussy Riot representatives when the group Pussy Riot explicitly asked to be distanced from them considering their (Masha and Nadia’s) current pursuits, which the group feels do not align with their political approach. Or did I miss something?

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