Miriam Elder of the Guardian writes that Masha has begun a hunger strike to protest at a court decision to refuse her permission to attend her own parole hearing.
Update 1 june: Masha has ended her 11-day hunger strike after prison authorities met her demands.
Maria Alyokhina, 24, also forbade her lawyers from further representing her during the parole hearing, becoming the most high-profile prisoner to reject taking part in a justice system widely criticised as absurd.
A regional court in Berezniki, a small city in the Urals region of Perm where Alyokhina’s prison colony is situated, had denied the activist the right to appear at her parole hearing on Wednesday. She appeared via videolink, and was required to file all motions by fax, requiring regular breaks in the hearing. At the end of the day-long hearing, she announced she would start a hunger strike. The parole hearing was due to continue on Thursday. “Let the troika sitting here – the judge, the prosecutor and the colony employee – decide my fate,”
Alyokhina said at the close of Wednesday’s proceedings, referring to the Soviet-era three-person commissions that issued sentences to perceived enemies without a trial.
Alyokhina and two of her bandmates, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were sentenced to two years in prison last year after being found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for performing a punk anthem criticising Vladimir Putin inside a Moscow cathedral.
Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended. Tolokonnikova was denied parole last month. She and Alyokhina are due to be released in March next year. In a recent letter to Radio Svoboda, Alyokhina wrote: “Soon I’ll appear before the parole commission which, of course, will decide that it’s impossible to let such a dangerous person as myself out into society. This is all boring and predictable.” The case against Pussy Riot signalled the start of a widespread crackdown on the anti-Putin opposition, and boosted the profile of the powerful Russian Orthodox church.
On Tuesday, the Duma approved a bill that would impose jail terms for “offending religious feelings”. It must now pass a formal third reading and be signed into law by Putin. Critics fear it will add to the arsenal of new laws being used to crack down on dissent.