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Friday October 18, 2013 MYT 9:30:08 PM
Friday October 18, 2013 MYT 9:30:08 PM
by anastasia gorelova
Maria Alyokhina, jailed member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, is escorted during a court hearing in Nizhny Novgorod, October 18, 2013. REUTERS/Roman Yarovitsyn
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Pussy Riot punk band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will be moved to another jail after she went on hunger strike to protest against conditions in her prison, authorities said on Friday.
In a show of support for Tolokonnikova, band mate Maria Alyokhina on Friday dropped a plea for early release from jail.
Both women are serving two-year sentences for an obscenity- laced protest against President Vladimir Putin in a revered Russian Orthodox cathedral.
Tolokonnikova, 24, was taken to hospital last month on the ninth day of a hunger strike to protest against what she called "slave labour" at Corrective Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow.
She renewed her hunger strike, demanding to be transferred to another jail, after she was sent back to the penal colony late on Thursday evening, Tolokonnikova's husband said.
The Pussy Riot activist alleges that she received a death threat from a senior prison official at the facility.
On Friday, the Federal Prison Service responded to her plea, with a spokesman telling the RIA news agency she would be moved to a different, undisclosed jail for her personal security.
"We see this as a great victory," Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said by telephone from Mordovia, adding that he did not yet know whether she had ended her hunger strike.
Under Russian law, officials must inform Tolokonnikova's relatives of her new location within 10 days of the transfer.
In a letter from jail last month, Tolokonnikova said that she feared for her life and that inmates were forced to work up to 17 hours a day under a system of collective punishment reminiscent of Soviet-era forced labour camps.
Fellow Pussy Riot member Alyokhina, 25, told a court in the Volga river city of Nizhny Novgorod on Friday: "I have no moral right to take part in this court hearing at a time when my friend and fellow convict Nadezhda Tolokonnikova does not have such an opportunity."
Prison authorities have dismissed Tolokonnikova's accusations that the jail is run in violation of Russian law and human rights standards. Investigators said were looking into her allegations.
"It is extremely strange and disgusting to me that a convict in Russia is no more than the profit-making property of the authorities," Alyokhina said from a cage in the courtroom.
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, both of whom have young children, are due for release in March. Previous bids for early release have been rejected by the courts.
The two Pussy Riot members were convicted along with a third band mate of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a February 2012 protest in which they burst into Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral and prayed to the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
Their protest and imprisonment divided Russians. Many in the predominantly Orthodox Christian nation were offended by a protest deemed blasphemous by church leaders. But opinion polls showed fewer Russians approved of such a tough sentence.
Kremlin critics say the Pussy Riot trial was part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin was elected to a third presidential term 12 days after the Pussy Riot protest. Western states have called their sentences excessive.
Putin, who denies interfering with the judiciary, has made Russian Orthodox values a pillar of his presidency and said the Pussy Riot members got what they asked for. The third band member had her sentence suspended.
(Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Barry Moody)
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