Russian officials have finally ended their silence about the location of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who went incommunicado after prison services decided to transfer her last month.
Russia's presidential human rights ombusdman's office wrote in a statement Tuesday that Tolokonnikova was being transferred from the swampy central Russian region of Mordovia to a prison colony in Krasnoyarsk province, deep in Siberia. Officials decided to move Tolokonnikova after inspecting allegations she made in an open letter in September that said conditions in the Mordovia prison were "slavery-like" and that wardens had made death threats against her, the statement said.
Tolokonnikova was sent to Krasnoyarsk because she was born and is registered in the grim industrial city of Norilsk in the Arctic Circle in the province, the statement added. Tolokonnikova lived in Moscow before her arrest and has not been to Norislk for seven years but is registered at her mother's apartment in there, her husband, Pyotr Verzilov, told BuzzFeed Tuesday.
Russian law requires all citizens to be "registered" as living in a specific place under a Soviet system designed to restrict the movement of peasants disenfranchised by collectivization under Stalin. The system is largely unchanged today, although widely ignored. Many Russians do not bother attempting to change their registration when they move. Russian law also requires prisoners to be kept as close as possible to their home towns, though this is also frequently ignored in practice.
Tolokonnikova's relatives learned she was transferred on Oct. 21, and heard nothing official about her whereabouts since. Russian law only requires informing prisoners' relatives about a transfer ten days after they arrive at the new prison.
Though most prison transfers are made by train and Krasnoyarsk is several thousand miles away, Tolokonnikova's journey has still been remarkably slow. During that time, her relatives and supporters have had to rely on informants within the prison system to learn of her whereabouts.
A member of Tolokonnikova's legal team tweeted a map of her journey with the points at which her family heard of her whereabouts marked on it:
"1849: Dostoevsky is transferred 3,500 km from St. Petersburg to Tobolsk in shackles, partially on foot, in 15 days. 2013: Tolokno's in transit across a similar distance from Mordovia to Siberia for 23 DAYS. And who knows when the hell they'll bring her."
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.