Jailed Pussy Riot punk band member ends eight-day hunger strike

MOSCOW (AFP) - A jailed member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot on Tuesday ended an eight-day hunger strike she had staged to draw attention to what she called "slave labour conditions" in prison.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was jailed for two years in August 2012, alongside fellow band member Maria Alyokhina, on "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" charges stemming from a protest they held against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

Their punishment drew international condemnation and turned the pair into a symbol of political repression under Mr Putin - a former spy who has tolerated little dissent during his 13 years in power.

The regional prison authority in the republic of Mordovia where Tolokonnikova is serving time said the 23-year-old "ended the hunger strike and started consuming food" on Tuesday morning.

Tolokonnikova was moved to a local hospital on Sunday and put on a drip the following day due to general weakness associated with her strike.

The prison service said Tolokonnikova's health was now "stable".

Russian human rights activist and leftist Parliament member Ilya Ponomaryov confirmed the information after paying a brief visit to her hospital on Tuesday.

She "stopped her hunger strike for medical reasons", Ms Ponomaryov tweeted.

Tolokonnikova announced her hunger strike after releasing an open letter in which she described harrowing conditions at her prison and claimed that she had received death threats for complaining.

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said Tolokonnikova had agreed to end her action after being assured by the prison warden that she would soon be transferred to a different jail.

"We agreed that she would end her strike, and that the (prison service) would treat with understanding her request to be moved to a different correctional facility," the Interfax news agency quoted Mr Lukin as saying.

Tolokonnikova's open letter ignited a fresh debate on Russian state television about filthy jail conditions and prisoner abuse.

Rights activists have repeatedly raised concerns over prison conditions in modern Russia in the last few years.

But few complaints from female jails have previously been made public due to what activists describe as a culture of violence and intimidation.