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Hunger-striking Pussy Riot inmate moved to medical unit

'Pussy Riot' punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova waits in the defendant's cage at a courthouse in Zubova Polyana, on April 26, 2013
"Pussy Riot" punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova waits in the defendant's cage at a courthouse in Zubova Polyana, on April 26, 2013

Russian prison authorities on Friday moved jailed Pussy Riot punk band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to the medical unit of her penal colony after her health worsened on the fifth day of a hunger strike.

Tolokonnikova began a hunger strike on Monday at her penal colony in central Russia's central Mordovia region in protest at prisoners being forced to work excessive hours and being treated like "slaves".

"Tolokonnikova has been brought to the medical unit from isolation," the Voina (War) art group, which is linked to her husband Pyotr Verzilov, wrote on its Twitter account.

The message on Twitter said the prison doctor had described her condition as "terrible" and that an investigator had confirmed she could not be questioned "as her condition was so bad".

A spokesperson for Russia's prison service confirmed to the RIA Novosti news agency that Tolokonnikova had been moved to the prison colony's medical unit "on the recommendation of doctors".

But Voina accused the prison service of imposing a "blockade" on information about her condition and halting all phone calls, as well as preventing visits from lawyers.

"For the last 23 hours we have no information about what is going on with Nadya. We need everyone's help," it said.

Tolokonnikova had earlier accused Russian prison officers at her prison, Penal Colony 14 in Mordovia, of cutting off her drinking water.

The prison service denied her claim, saying on its website that it had replaced her cold drinking water with warm boiled water on medical advice.

The 23-year-old mother of a young daughter is serving a two-year sentence for a punk protest in a Moscow cathedral last year.

Tolokonnikova in a letter released Monday accused her penal colony of forcing women prisoners to work up to 17-hour days in a sewing workshop.

She also said the colony's deputy chief had hinted she could be killed by other prisoners in revenge if they were given shorter working hours and so failed to meet targets.

“These allegations are extremely serious and disturbing,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia programme director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities need to promptly and thoroughly investigate Tolokonnikova’s accusations and make sure she doesn’t face retribution for going public,” she said in a statement.

The prison service said in a statement that Tolokonnikova went on hunger strike after threatening to go public on prison conditions unless she was transferred to different work.

She said in another letter published Tuesday that she had been moved to a bitterly cold isolation cell, while the prison service called it adequately comfortable.

Her fellow jailed Pussy Riot punk Maria Alyokhina is due to ask a court in the region of Nizhny Novgorod for a softer sentence in a hearing on October 18.

Both women have had two appeals for parole turned down. Their two-year sentences run out in March next year.

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