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Agence France-Presse
Moscow, September 24, 2013
The Russian prison service said Tuesday it had moved jailed Pussy Riot musician Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to an isolation cell after she launched a hunger strike over what she called slave labour conditions. "Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has been placed in a so-called safe place in the colony. It is not a punishment cell," a spokesman for the prison service told the Interfax news agency.

Tolokonnikova, a 23-year-old mother, is serving a two-year sentence in a penal colony in the Mordovia region of central Russia over the Pussy Riot punk band's protest song in a Moscow cathedral last year.

The spokesman said she was in a "single-person cell with comfortable conditions, seven square metres in area, with a sleeping area, fridge and toilet".

The head of a regional prisons watchdog, Gennady Morozov, told the RIA Novosti news agency that Tolokonnikova had been put in a "punishment isolation cell".

Her lawyer Irina Khrunova told the RAPSI legal news agency that Tolokonnikova confirmed "that she was put in a safe place. She didn't tell me anything about a punishment cell."

Tolokonnikova on Monday declared a hunger strike, complaining that prisoners had to work 17-hour days at a sewing workshop and that she had received a death threat from the deputy governor of her penal colony in Mordovia, a region dotted with former Soviet Gulag prison camps.

In a letter released to media, she described harrowing conditions at the penal labour colony No 14, saying its female inmates were treated like "slaves".

Morozov, the chairman of a Kremlin-linked prisoners' rights watchdog for Mordovia, said the prison authorities had moved Tolokonnikova for her safety.

"This is not a punishment, but is done due to Tolokonnikova's statement that she received threats," he said.

He also said prison staff are continuing to bring her food despite her hunger strike.

The regional prison service has denied Tolokonnikova's description of the conditions, saying prisoners only work an eight-hour day. It said that she complained after being refused a request for privileged conditions.