Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s prison letters documenting abuse and exploitation of her fellow inmates by the labor camp administration were met with vicious ridicule in the comments section. This is not what one would expect from the Guardian crowd. One can be cynical enough to believe Pussy Riot were deliberately seeking imprisonment as a self-promotion strategy, but Nadezhda’s letters were not about her own plight but about Russia’s labor camp system.
For anyone who could read Russian, a search through prison-related sites/forums like zekov.net and gulagu.net would have provided first-hand accounts supporting Nadezhda’s testimony. Svetlana Bakhmina, a Yukos lawyer imprisoned in the same labor camp as Nadezhda in 2006-9, said the younger woman’s story was consistent with her own experience. Alexey Navalny, not a PR supporter, identified the owner of the private company that benefited most from the imprisoned women’s slave labor as a Duma deputy. Ilya Shablinskiy, a member of the presidential human rights council, also conceded after visiting the labor camp that Nadezhda’s claims were well grounded.
But none of that mattered to the hostile commenters. They kept repeating the same lies and irrelevancies, “they deserved it,” “stupid cows,” “it’s worse at Guantanamo,” “try this and St. Paul and see,” “Charlie Gilmour got 16 months for swinging from the Cenotaph” and so on.
I don’t know if any of those people were paid Putin shills or merely authority-loving Russians, or insular lefties suffering from extreme Americophobia. Whoever they may have been, Charlie Gilmour was not sentenced to 16 months for swinging from the Cenotaph while stoned – the judge made that clear. It was hardly a mitigating circumstance of course, but what landed him in prison was throwing a waste bin at a royal convoy and jumping on one of the cars. Charlie was freed after four months.
Moreover, Pussy Riot did not disrupt a church service. In theory, disrupting a church service. In 1998, Peter Tatchell interrupted a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury and got on the pulpit to preach his own – and was fined £18.60 under a 1860 statute. In theory, he could have been sentenced to prison, but then in theory, Pussy Riot could have received seven years in a labor camp.