On October 19th, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published a letter in The New Times, describing how prisoners are often transferred to punish, or silence them. Nadia requested that the article be published, because she knew her own transfer might be coming. On October 21, her prediction came true, and she was put on a train from her Mordovian prison to a destination unknown.
At the time, legal experts suggested that she could be out of contact for at least five days while the transfer was completed. After five days, she would have the legal right to contact her lawyer. According to Buzzfeed, the family was told that she would be in contact with the family within 10 days. But aside from the fact that she was spotted on a train in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural Mountains, on October 24, she has not contacted anyone on the outside world for 14 days:
“No one knows anything,” her father, Andrei Tolokonnikov, said by telephone from Moscow. “There’s no proof she’s alive, we don’t know the state of her health. Is she sick? Has she been beaten?”
“When they moved [political prisoner Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, he was also kind of absent for two weeks. Nobody knew where he was, then he suddenly appeared in Chita,” 1,000 miles east of Moscow, [her husband Petya Verzilov] said.
Tolokonnikova and fellow rocker Maria Alyokhina are both set to be released from prison in March, at the completion of their prison terms. In many ways, this is part of the threat that Tolokonnikova represents. Her campaign to bring attention to systematic abuse inside the Russian Gulag has proven to be more powerful than perhaps many in the Kremlin anticipated.
The shock-rock antics of Pussy Riot can no longer be easily dismissed as self-serving publicity stunts. Nadia Tolokonnikova’s disappearance, then, should be seen both as a scare tactic to intimidate other prisoners, and as a way of silencing her voice — for at least as long as the Federal Corrections Service can keep her in prison.