Officials Find 'Slave Labor' At Russian Prison Where Pussy Riot Member Was Held

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has asked prosecutors to open a criminal case into allegations of slave-labor conditions among female convicts at a prison in Mordovia. 

FSIN Deputy Director Valery Maksimenko said on December 24 that the director of prison IK-14, Yury Kupriyanov, had been dismissed, together with an unspecified number of other officials at the prison. 

IK-14 was the prison where prominent activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova served most of a two-year prison sentence for participating in a performance by the political-art group Pussy Riot in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. 

She was released under an amnesty in December 2013. Since her release, she has campaigned for the rights of Russian prisoners. 

In September 2013, Tolokonnikova wrote an open letter in which she complained about the slave-labor conditions at the prison, as well as violent abuse of prisoners. She wrote that women must work 16 or 17 hours a day with one day off every eight weeks. She said that she had been subjected to death threats. 

At the time the FSIN said it had investigated her charges and found them unsubstantiated. 

"Apparently, Tolokonnikova was correct," Maksimenko told TASS in Moscow on December 24. 

Maksimenko said the latest investigation had found that convicts were sometimes forced to work sewing clothing from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. 

He said prisoners were "threatened with isolation and being deprived of food for the slightest transgression." 

He added that prisoners sewed clothing for Kupriyanov, his relatives, friends, and business associates. 

Maksimenko said that the findings were the result of a surprise inspection at the prison. 

The inspection was triggered by a complaint from former prisoner Indira Bagayeva. 

"In view of the fact that such complaints had come from Mordovia before and they had been investigated repeatedly without being confirmed, it was decided to conduct a surprise inspection by employees of the central FSIN offices," he said, saying that after the team arrived, prison officials made efforts to conceal security video materials from them.

With reporting by TASS and Meduza