Tag Archives: suppression

NAACP: Block Sessions for attorney general

NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks issued the following statement opposing the nomination of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general:

America yet stands at the beginning of presidential administration but also in the middle of a Twitter age civil rights movement based on old divisions.

U.S. Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is among the worst possible nominees for attorney general amid some of the worst times for civil rights in recent memory.

Following a divisive presidential campaign, hate crimes rising, police videos sickening the stomach while quickening the conscience, protesters marching in the streets and politicians mouthing the myth of voter fraud while denying the reality of voter suppression, Senator Sessions is precisely the wrong man to lead the Justice Department.

The NAACP, as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, opposes the nomination of Senator Sessions to become U.S. attorney general for the following reasons:

• a record on voting rights that is unreliable at best and hostile at worse;

• a failing record on other civil rights;

• a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior;

• and dismal record on criminal justice reform issues.

Voting Rights

Senator Sessions supported the re-authorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006, but called the bill “a piece of intrusive legislation” just months earlier. Sessions has consistently voted in favor of strict voter ID laws that place extra burdens on the poor and residents of color, and drive voter suppression across the country. When the Supreme Court struck down federal protections in 2012 that prevented thousands of discriminatory state laws from taking effect since 1965, Sessions declared it was “a good thing for the South.” As a prosecutor in 1985, Sessions maliciously prosecuted a former aide to Martin Luther King for helping senior citizens file absentee ballots in Alabama.

Rather than enforcing voting rights protections, Senator Sessions has instead made a career of seeking to dismantle them. When Shelby County v. Holder gutted the protections of the VRA, Senator Sessions cheered. For decades, he has pursued the rare and mystical unicorn of voter fraud, while turning a blind eye to the ever-growing issue of voter suppression.

While Senator Sessions’ historical record on civil rights remains one of dismay, it is his unrepentant stance against the vote that remains our issue. The threat of voter suppression is not a historical but current challenge. At least 10 times in the past 10 months, the NAACP defended voting rights against coordinated campaigns by legislators targeting African-American voters in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and many other states.

While the NAACP could gain the assistance of the Justice Department in fighting back against voter suppression, a Sessions-led DOJ would likely lead to the exact opposite.During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach’s commitment to democracy allowed him to help write the VRA. Today, our nation stands on the verge of selecting an AG who has never shown the slightest commitment to enforcing the protections Katzenbach and others wrote into law. 

How can our communities who have born the both historical and current brunt of the attacks on the right to vote, sit idly by while an enemy to the vote is now given the responsibility of enforcing this right? The simple answer is that we can’t. 

Other Civil Rights

Since 1997, Senator Sessions has received an F every year on the NAACP’s federal legislative civil rights report cards. He’s voted against our policy positions nearly 90 percent of the time. Senator Sessions has repeatedly supported lawsuits and attempts to overturn desegregation while shamelessly voting against federal Hate Crime legislation four times from 2000 to 2009.

Notwithstanding, he has also repeatedly voted against the Violence Against Women Act that expanded protection for victims of domestic violence and repeatedly stood on the wrong side of immigration and LGBT issues.

Racial Insensitivity

During his failed 1986 federal judgeship hearing, four DOJ attorneys and colleagues of Senator Sessions testified that he made several racist statements. J. Gerald Hebert testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “un-American” and “Communist inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.

Additional accusations of racist behavior were attributed to Senator Sessions by Thomas Figures, an African American Assistant U.S. Attorney, who testified that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but did apologize for it. Mr. Figures also testified that on one occasion, Senator Session railed against civil rights cases, threw a file on the table and called him the derogatory racist term “boy,” and later advised Figures to watch what he said to white people.

Criminal Justice Reform

In a time of expanding protests against the scourge of police brutality, Senator Sessions stands on opposite ground. He has repeated stood against the consent decree, a main tool of the DOJ to reel in racist and unaccountable police departments. In a report by the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Sessions called consent decrees: “One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees. Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”

While under the administration of President Barack Obama, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division made investigating police departments charged with racism and police brutality a key focus by intervening in high-profile cases in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland to impose consent decrees and reforms to correct misbehavior and the violation of citizen’s civil rights.

Senator Sessions would become the Attorney General under a president who supports nationalizing the racist and disproven “stop and frisk,” strategy. Both Sessions and the incoming president are supporters of the DOD 1033 program which allows police department’s access to surplus military equipment including tanks, armored vehicles, grenade launchers and more. He also opposes the removal of mandatory minimum sentences and blocked efforts to reduce nonviolent drug sentencing despite wide bi-partisan support for doing so. If not enough, Senator Sessions has repeatedly voted against safe, sane, and sensible measures to stem the tide of gun violence.

Given that these are issues our nation the attorney general is sworn to protect and enforce his nomination represents an ongoing and dangerous threat to our civicbirthrights –particularly, and the right to vote.

We call upon the Senate to reject Sessions and for President-elect Donald J. Trump to replace Sessions with a nominee with a record of inclusion and commitment to protecting the civil rights of the American majority.

The NAACP does not believe that an election where the incoming president lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes represents a mandate to overhaul the America of the Majority. The vote remains the most important resource in making democracy real for all people.

As we have since 1909, the NAACP will continue to stand against Senator Sessions and any attempts to unravel the progress earned through the blood, sweat and tears of our people to enjoy the same rights under law as all Americans.”

Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots–based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Your right to know: State should support student expression

Two years ago, the Fond du Lac School District unveiled new guidelines requiring administrative review and approval before the publication of any student media. The reaction by students was swift, democratic and effective.

Within days, they had publicized the change online, presented their case at a school board meeting, appeared on local media and gathered several thousand signatures on a petition calling for student publications to be returned to the students. Over the next several months, they highlighted the district’s use of these guidelines to block the publication of particular photos and information.

These efforts succeeded. The district agreed to convene a group of student journalists and educators to craft a new policy. By the next school year, the restrictive guidelines were gone.

The passion for the free flow of information and constitutional rights displayed by these students stands as a prime example of the power of a journalism education based on student responsibility and ownership. But efforts to stifle student speech remain.

Recently, a principal in Chicago censored a story about the school’s new starting time, at one point threatening to kill the publication entirely. Student journalists in Missouri were told they must submit a story about their superintendent’s resignation to the principal for editing. A student journalist in West Bend, Wisconsin, reports being barred from writing about certain topics.

And in many schools, the looming possibility of administrative overreach leads students to censor themselves, back down when challenged, or abandon student publications entirely.

This should not be happening. While schools must maintain an effective learning atmosphere, they do not have the right to suppress information they simply do not like. Court cases have made clear that students maintain their First Amendment rights of free speech at school.

Unfortunately, a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier) established that schools could review and possibly restrain speech if related to legitimate educational purposes. Many school districts have over-applied this highly subjective standard.

Once a principal is allowed to pre-approve student journalism, it is inevitable that he or she will find things to change to make the expression more “positive” or more aligned with what the principal wants to say. This does not teach journalism or citizenship. It teaches that authority figures — government officials, in the case of public schools — decide what ideas can be discussed.

Since Hazelwood, eight states have passed laws clearly establishing that student publications belong to students, who are themselves responsible for deciding what to publish. North Dakota passed one such law unanimously last year, and more than 20 other states are looking to join them.

These bills, termed New Voices laws, do nothing to limit a school’s ability to prohibit illegal or harmful speech. But they do let students perfect the power of their own voices and explore the benefits of the free flow of information in a democracy.

Students in Wisconsin deserve a New Voices law of their own. The effort to do so here, known as Supporting New Voices of Wisconsin, has been getting media attention and editorial support.

In the next legislative session, we hope state lawmakers will help ensure that the rights of student journalists are clear and that schools are using student publications for student learning, rather than to promote the agenda of government officials.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a nonprofit group dedicated to open government. Matthew Smith, a teacher at Fond du Lac High School, is a coordinator for New Voices of Wisconsin.

China’s security matrix prevents another Tiananmen protest

When visiting friends in China’s capital, environmental activist Wu Lihong must slip away from his rural home before sunrise, before the police officers watching his home awaken. He rides a bus to an adjacent province and jumps aboard a train just minutes before departure to avoid being spotted.

In a neighboring province, veteran dissident Yin Weihong finds himself hauled into a police station merely for keeping in touch with old friends from the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement. While he’s technically a free man, the treatment makes it virtually impossible to keep a job or have a normal home life.

A quarter century after the movement’s suppression, China’s communist authorities oversee a raft of measures for muzzling dissent and preventing protests. They range from the sophisticated — extensive monitoring of online debate and control over media — to the relatively simple — routine harassment of government critics and maintenance of a massive domestic security force.

The system has proven hugely successful: No major opposition movement has gotten even a hint of traction in the 25 years since Tiananmen. President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping seems intent on ensuring things stay that way.

“It’s extremely bad right now, much worse than in past years,” said Yin, who spent several months in prison for his role as a student leader during the 1989 protests. “There’s less and less space for civil society or, if you’re like me, even to just live your life freely.”

Each year’s anniversary brings a crackdown on dissent, but this year has been especially harsh, say dissidents and human rights groups. Lawyers and others taking part in even minor private commemorations have been detained. Outspoken relatives of those killed in the crackdown have been forced out of Beijing.

Journalists, including those in the foreign media, have been issued stern orders not to report on unspecified sensitive topics around the June 4 anniversary, with warnings of dire consequences.

“We are seeing a crackdown very large in scope,” said William Nee, Amnesty International’s Hong Kong-based China researcher. “What we have seen thus far under the Xi Jinping government hasn’t been very good.”

Caught unaware and unprepared by the Tiananmen protests, China now anticipates, detects and chokes off political and social activism before it can challenge authorities. Despite a huge rise in prosperity and vast social changes, political activism and organization outside the control of the ruling Communist Party is strictly verboten.

“The authorities are very careful to nip any potential dissent in the bud at the local level, the focus being on ensuring they can’t link up and become a nationwide movement,” said Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Maya Wang.

Yin said China’s rights conditions have deteriorated since party stalwart Xi Jinping’s appointment as general secretary in late 2012. While going after corrupt officials, Xi has demanded strict ideological orthodoxy and pushed a campaign to denigrate liberal values such as Western-style constitutional democracy and the independence of the media.

Government critics and public intellectuals face ever-more-intrusive harassment, Yin said. Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, is under house arrest and constant supervision. An unknown number of others can leave home or work only with permission.

Some veteran activists say the room for independent organization is tighter than it was in 1989. A limited number of nominally non-governmental organizations are permitted, but they operate only at the pleasure of the authorities and must confine themselves to non-political issues such as environmentalism, child welfare and workers rights.

“It’s OK to hold lectures and conferences, at least in principle, but you can’t really conduct research and seriously delve into the topics,” said Wu, an environmental activist from the eastern city of Wuxi who has endured more than a decade of harassment, including a three-year prison sentence on fraud charges he says were trumped up.

Some degree of labor activism has been permitted, especially in the southern industrial heartland of Guangdong province, but the only legal unions remain under tight government control and strikes are extremely rare.

Independent workers’ rights activists are under constant scrutiny. Anita Chan, a China labor expert at Australia National University, said police are more frequently calling the activists in to “drink tea” _ a form of low-level intimidation. 

And while religious activity is permitted under the auspices of party-controlled bodies, crackdowns have escalated against independent groups such as Protestant “house churches.” In Zhejiang province alone, 64 churches were demolished, had their crosses removed or were threatened, according to Bob Fu, a former dissident and underground church pastor now based in Texas.

Meanwhile, the state has developed increasingly sophisticated mechanisms of surveillance and censorship, taking advantage of technological improvements and a huge boost in domestic security spending. An army of young, computer-savvy censors checks social media and websites and removes content on sensitive topics.

Users of social media such as the hugely popular microblogging and instant messaging applications Weibo and QQ must be registered and identified.

Many foreign websites are blocked, including news outlets and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Those who care to make the effort can find technological workarounds, such as virtual private networks, but most Chinese appear content with the Internet that the government allows.

The government has come down hard on some outspoken online opinion leaders, detaining many for so-called rumor mongering, including a well-known liberal commentator, Chinese-American investor Charles Xue.

Wang, of Human Rights Watch, said the government is trying to compel people to censor themselves.

“It’s so that when people go about their business, they already consider the potential risks and make sure they don’t even get close to the red lines,” Wang said.

Another standard control method is to restrict travel. Many critics of the government, including Wu and Yin, have been denied passports _ both as a punitive measure and a means to keep them from addressing foreign audiences about China’s problems.

And while Wu can use some ingenuity to visit his friends in Beijing, he said, “As soon as they find I’m gone, they send officers to bring me back. You try to adapt, but it takes a real toll on your family and on you psychologically.”

Shortly after The Associated Press interviewed him, Wu was taken from a friend’s home and interrogated for 24 hours straight.

Despite these efforts, China sees what many of what it calls “mass incidents” threatening social stability. One Chinese sociologist, Sun Liping, has estimated there are about 180,000 per year, ranging from organized marches to spontaneous protests and even violence sparked by anger over working conditions, corruption, environmental degradation and ethnic unrest.

A premium is placed on quickly containing and dissolving such incidents, unlike in 1989, when protests were allowed to build up over more than a month.

The government also has focused heavily on avoiding military force such as the tanks and troops that tore their way through citizen barricades to the heart of the protests in Tiananmen Square, leaving hundreds, possibly thousands dead.

Instead, the government has vastly expanded its domestic security apparatus. Much of the effort has gone into improved training and equipment for the 1.5 million-member paramilitary People’s Armed Police, the Chinese interior security force. Grassroots-level officials and public security department heads have undergone training in responding to unrest.

Meanwhile, the party has tackled many of the major contributing causes of the 1989 protests, devoting funds and attention to fighting corruption, boosting employment and housing and even holding down pork prices. That has eliminated many sources of discontent, though many Chinese remain deeply cynical about corruption among the newly rich and political elites.

“They realize that economic growth is not enough, so the whole strategy is to avoid cases of large-scale unrest through an entire social security package,” said Joseph Cheng. 

Partner of gay reporter at center of NSA leak detained

The partner of a journalist who received leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was detained for nearly nine hours on Aug. 18 under anti-terror legislation at London’s Heathrow Airport.

David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, was held for nearly the maximum time authorities are allowed to detain individuals under the Terrorism Act’s Schedule 7, which authorizes security agencies to stop and question people at borders. Greenwald said Miranda’s cellphone, laptops and memory sticks were confiscated.

“This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism,” Greenwald said in a post on the Guardian website. “It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic.”

Greenwald has written a series of stories about the NSA’s electronic surveillance programs based on files handed over by Snowden. The former contractor fled the United States and is now in Russia, where he has received temporary asylum.

The 28-year-old Miranda was returning home to Brazil from Germany, where he was staying with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has worked with Greenwald on the NSA story, Greenwald said in his post. He also said British authorities had “zero suspicion” that Miranda was linked to a terror group and instead interrogated him about the NSA reporting and the contents of the electronic equipment he was carrying.

“If the U.K. and U.S. governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded,” he said. “If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further.”

London police acknowledged that they had detained a 28-year-old man at 8:05 a.m. He was released at 5 p.m. without being arrested, the Metropolitan Police Service said.

“They kept David detained right up until the last minute: for the full 9 hours, something they very rarely do. Only at the last minute did they finally release him,” Greenwald said. “This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ.”

The Home Office says in a report released last year that more than 97 percent of those questioned under Schedule 7 are detained for less than an hour. Less than a tenth of 1 percent are held for more than six hours. Some 230,236 people were questioned under Schedule 7 from April 2009 through March 2012.

Schedule 7 is designed to help authorities determine whether people crossing U.K. borders have been involved in the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” according to the Home Office report. Border agents are not required to have reasonable suspicion before detaining a traveler.

Examining officers may require travelers to answer questions or provide documents. Detainees may be held for up to nine hours if they refuse to cooperate, the Home Office report said.

Greenwald’s post said the Guardian sent lawyers to the airport. Detainees have the right to legal representation, though publicly funded legal advice is not guaranteed.

The Brazilian government expressed “grave concern” over the detention of Miranda, Greenwald’s partner with whom he’s in a civil union. The pair lives in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Miranda was “detained and held incommunicado.”

The statement went on to say that the foreign ministry considered the detention “unjustifiable, as it involves an individual against whom there are no accusations that could possibly legitimize the use of such legislation.”

FBI investigating bogus purge letters to Florida voters

The FBI is joining an investigation into bogus letters sent to many Florida voters that raise questions about their eligibility to cast ballots.

Tampa FBI chief Steven E. Ibison said the FBI will focus on letters received by voters in 18 counties in central and southwest Florida.

State authorities have received reports of letters in at least 23 counties.

The letters claim to be from county supervisors of elections but were all postmarked from Seattle. They raise questions about the voter’s citizenship and appear intended to intimidate people.

Ibison says voters who get a letter should first contact their local election supervisor to see if it’s authentic. If not, voters should keep the letter and contact the FBI.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has also opened an investigation.

Texas threatens to arrest international voting monitors

The Texas attorney general has threatened to arrest international voting monitors who come within 100 feet of polling places in his state on Nov. 6.

The global human rights watchdog Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observes elections around the world to report irregularities and voter suppression. But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott warned that observers in his state are subject to Texas state law, not federal law or international agreements. In the past, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he’d like for Texas to secede from the United States.

The Vienna-based group responded with a statement saying, “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite . . . observers to observe its elections.”

Still, Abbot told Reuters news service on Wednesday that he’s considering legal action against the group under Texas law. “Our concern is that this isn’t some benign observation but something intended to be far more prying and maybe even an attempt to suppress voter integrity,” he said.

He cited reports that OSCE monitors had met with organizations challenging voter identification laws. Earlier this year, a federal appeal court blocked Texas’ restrictive voter ID law, designed to limit poll access to Hispanics, African-Americans, students, poor people, and the elderly. Abbott has said he will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the law is enacted, it would affect an estimated 700,000 Latino voters, according to democracy advocates.

The 56-member OSCE routinely sends monitors to elections and noted November’s elections would be the sixth U.S. vote that ODIHR has observed “without incident” since 2002. For next month’s elections, it has a core team of 13 experts from 10 OSCE countries based in Washington and 44 long-term observers deployed across the country.

GOP voter suppression efforts, guised as attempts to prevent voter fraud, have become one of the hottest issues surrounding elective politics this year. Another issue like to emerge is the close connection between Republicans and companies that manufacture voting machines. As the Washington Post reported yesterday:

“Hart InterCivic is an Austin-based voting machine company that serves local governments nationwide. Its clients include Hamilton County, Ohio, which administers elections in Cincinnati. Hart InterCivic also has in its DNA just enough traces of Bain & Co. and Mitt Romney campaign donors to trigger serious angst in the liberal blogosphere about the fate of Ohio’s must-have 18 electoral votes.

“Versions of the story have appeared in the Free Press, an Ohio Web site, in addition to Salon and a liberal blog carried by Forbes. In a nutshell: Three of Hart’s five corporate board members are executives of HIG Capital, a global private-equity firm that made what it called a ‘significant’ investment in Hart last year. Four HIG executives (Tony Tamer, John Bolduc, Douglas Berman and Brian D. Schwartz) have been identified as Romney bundlers by independent watchdog groups such as the Sunlight Foundation.

“HIG employees as a whole have donated $338,000 this year to the campaign of the Republican presidential nominee, according to Open Secrets. Three of them (Tamer, Berman and Bolduc) used to work at Bain. Among the investors in HIG is Solamere Capital, a private-equity firm run by Tagg Romney, one of the candidate’s sons.

“The implication in some of the news media coverage is that through these links, Romney will have some leverage over the vote count in Ohio.”

Clear Channel to take down ‘voter intimidation’ billboards

Clear Channel Communications has agreed to remove anonymous billboards that critics say were intended to intimidate voters and suppress turnout on Election Day.

The billboards went up in Ohio and Wisconsin and warned of prison terms and fines for anyone engaged in voter fraud. They began to appear in early October and were financed by a “family foundation” that insisted on remaining anonymous.

Clear Channel said the signs violated its policy against anonymous political messages and that it made a mistake in accepting the contract.

“We reviewed the situation and in light of the fact that these billboards violate our policy of not accepting anonymous political ads, we asked the client how they would prefer to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy,” stated Jim Culinan of Clear Channel Outdoor. “The client thought the best solution was to take the boards down, so we are in the process of removing them.”

Clear Channel also will put up billboards that say voting is a right, not a crime.

On Oct. 22, the United Steel Workers International praised the company’s decision. “Messages that use fear to deny the most basic rights of U.S. citizens go beyond the bounds of ‘free speech’ when they seek to undermine our democracy,” said USW International president Leo W. Gerard in a news release. “These billboards were designed not to educate but to intimidate voters into staying home on Nov. 6.”

The USW is a member of the Election Protection Coalition, which opposes voter suppression efforts and sought removal of the signs.

The group, which last week launched its own billboards to encourage voter turnout, includes Common Cause, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Education Association, the Advancement Project and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“This is an undeniable victory for those of us who care about protecting the right to vote.” said Catherine Turcer of Ohio Common Cause. “Allowing people to intimidate voters and interfere with voting is un-American. Now it’s time for Norton Outdoor to follow Clear Channel’s lead and take down the anonymously funded billboards as well.” Norton Outdoor is the company which put up the billboards in the Cincinnati area. The Clear Channel billboards were in the Milwaukee, Columbus, and Cleveland markets.

Clear Channel said it will remove the signs it owns in Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee.

Another company, Norton Outdoor, which owns similar boards in the Cincinnati area, has not said whether it will follow suit.

“It is important that we keep the pressure on Norton so all of these offensive messages are removed,” said Mike Scarver, the USW’s voter protection project coordinator. “Nobody’s vote should be denied because of fear-mongering and bullying like this.”

Pussy Riot members face tough life in penal colony

It’s a far cry from Stalin’s gulag, but the guiding principle of the Russian penal colony — the destination of two members of punk band Pussy Riot — remains the same: isolate inmates and wear them down through “corrective labor.”

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will have to quickly learn the inner laws of prison life, survive the dire food and medical care, and risk bullying from inmates either offended by their “punk prayer” against President Vladimir Putin or under orders to pressure them.

“Everyone knows the rule: Trust no one, never fear and never forgive,” said Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who spent three years in a penal colony. “You are in no-man’s land. Nobody will help you. You have to think about everything you say and do to remain a person.”

Alekhina, 24, Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an impromptu performance in Moscow’s main cathedral as Putin headed into an election that handed him a third term as Russia’s president. The women insisted their protest was political. But many believers said they were deeply offended by the sight of the band members dancing on the altar in balaclavas.

An appeals court released Samutsevich last week, but upheld the two-year prison terms of the others. The presiding judge said that “their correction is possible only in isolation from society.”

In colonies for women, inmates live in barracks with 30 to 40 to a room. They begin the day by shuffling outside for compulsory exercises at daybreak, in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter. After roll call and a breakfast of gruel, they spend seven to eight hours a day at work, usually hunched over sewing machines working on uniforms and other clothing.

Since there is only one women’s penal colony near Moscow, female prisoners from the capital are commonly sent to Mordovia, a swampy, mosquito-infested province on the Volga River. Defense lawyers said Alekhina and Tolokonnikova would be transported to a penal colony within two weeks, after receiving copies of their sentences. The location was not yet known.

Despite the harsh conditions, many prisoners nonetheless prefer the colonies to the pre-trial detention centers, where they are kept in cramped, sometimes spectacularly unhygienic cells and only allowed out for an hour a day. The three Pussy Riot members were held in such a center since their February arrest.

Russian inmates are kept in a system that Russia’s own justice minister has described as “monstrously archaic” and whose purpose has changed little for hundreds of years. Czarist Russia sent prisoners to remote Siberian colonies where labor was in short supply; the system was inherited and expanded by the Soviet Union, which worked millions of prisoners to death in the gulag. Russia incarcerates more people than any country in the world bar the United States and China, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

There have been other high-profile penal colony inmates in Putin’s Russia.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the Yukos oil company, served part of his 14-year sentence in an Eastern Siberian colony. Once Russia’s richest man, he served his time making mittens. Arrested in 2003, Khodorkovsky was convicted in two cases seen as punishment for challenging Putin’s power.

Bakhmina, who once worked for Khodorkovsky, said you have little free time to yourself in the prison colony, where guards often compel prisoners to attend classes or participate in cultural activities. In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, former Ambassador William Burns recalled visiting a women’s prison where inmates put on a “bizarre fashion and talent show” for American officials.

“Boredom doesn’t exist in the colony. It’s too good a concept for it. You just regret the time you spend,” Bakhmina said. “A normal person can’t even imagine that environment – you have to get used to it and people have to get used to you. It takes several months, maybe half a year. It’s all about how you behave – you have to not be conceited and respect other people.”

Prisoners are typically paid the equivalent of about $10 a day, which they can use to buy food, cigarettes, and toiletries. Those whose families don’t send them supplies scrape through on the unofficial labor market, cleaning up the facilities or doing work for wealthier inmates. Cigarette packs are the colony’s internal currency.

Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, both university graduates, are unlikely to have much in common with their fellow inmates. “I didn’t think there even were people like 90 percent of the people I met,” Bakhmina recalled. “I never had any idea there were so many drug addicts, or so many people with speech impediments.”

Spouses are allowed three-day conjugal visits four times a year. Prisoners who show especially good behavior can even be given two weeks’ leave outside the camp. Bakhmina became pregnant while serving her term and was released several months after giving birth to a daughter. She saw her two older sons only twice during her three years in the penal colony, afraid it would be too traumatic for them to see their mother imprisoned.

Mothers with children under the age of 3 can keep them in centers on penal colony grounds, or in the case of one colony in Mordovia in their barracks. Alekhina’s 5-year-old son and Tolokonnikova’s 4-year-old daughter will live with relatives.

The two punk band members can be punished with up to 15 days in solitary confinement for minor infractions such as failing to make their beds or to put their hands behind their backs at roll call or to greet guards quickly enough.

Perhaps the greatest danger for the band members, however, will be posed by their fellow inmates. Physical violence, while a danger, is relatively rare in comparison to men’s colonies. But the psychological pressure can be greater, said Vitaly Borshchyov, head of the Public Monitoring Commission, a human rights organization that works with the government to improve prison conditions.

“Colonies are all-consuming for women,” he said. “Having a large group of women together in a single space is a recipe for tension and conflicts. You might get beaten up, sexually humiliated or forced to be someone’s lover, especially if you’re a young woman.”

The Pussy Riot members’ lawyers and supporters also fear that Orthodox believers may attack them, either inspired by the extremely negative coverage of their protest on state television or egged on by state officials.

“When things get worse on the outside, it gets transferred into the colonies,” said Lev Ponomarev, a Soviet dissident who runs the Defending Prisoners’ Rights foundation. “Scoundrels think they can get away with more. The authorities are totally indifferent.”

The band members have vowed to remain defiant.

“We will not be silent,” Alekhina told the appeals court last week. “And even if we are in Mordovia or Siberia we will not be silent … however zealously you try to smear us.”

Tens of thousands protest Russia’s Putin

The first major protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin after a summer lull drew tens of thousands of people, determined to show that opposition sentiment remains strong despite Kremlin efforts to muzzle dissent.

The street protests broke out after a December parliamentary election won by Putin’s party through what observers said was widespread fraud, and they grew in strength ahead of Putin’s effectively unopposed election in March to a third presidential term.

Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.

“We have to defend the rights that we were deprived of, the right to have elections. We were deprived of honest elections and an honest government,” opposition activist Alexander Shcherbakov said. “I’ve come to show that and to demonstrate that the people are opposed. I’m opposed to the illegitimate government and illegitimate elections.”

Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others as they marched down Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “We are the power here!” Many wore the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement.

About 7,000 police officers stood guard along the route of the march, and a police helicopter hovered overhead. A protest rally, held on a wide street named for the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, remained peaceful as it stretched into the evening. As the 10 p.m. deadline neared, a couple of hundred people were still on the street and police herded them toward a subway station. One of the opposition leaders, Sergei Udaltsov, was detained along with a handful of his supporters when he tried to lead a group of about 50 on a new protest march.

Putin has shown less tolerance for the opposition since his inauguration in May. New repressive laws have been passed to deter people from joining protests, and opposition leaders have been subject to searches and interrogations. In August, a court handed down two-year prison sentences to three members of the punk band Pussy Riot for performing an anti-Putin song inside Moscow’s main cathedral.

Big balloons painted with the band’s trademark balaclava masks floated over the crowd on Saturday, while some rally participants wore T-shirts in support of Pussy Riot.

Many demonstrators targeted Putin with creative placards and outfits. Some mocked Putin’s recent publicity stunt in which he flew in a motorized hang glider to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight.

One protester donned a white outfit similar to the one worn by Putin on the flight with a sign reading: “Give up hope, each of you who follow me.” Another person held a placard that said: “We are not your cranes.”

Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption crusader and a popular blogger, remains the rock star among the protest leaders. When he took the stage, young people in the crowd held up their phones to record the moment.

Navalny urged the demonstrators to show resolve and keep up the pressure on the Kremlin with more street protests.

“We must come to rallies to win freedom for ourselves and our children, to defend our human dignity,” he said to cheers of support. “We will come here as to our workplace. No one else will free us but ourselves.”

The rally appeared as big as the last major protest in June, which also attracted tens of thousands. More of the demonstrators, however, came not as members of the varied political organizations that make up the protest movement, but with groups of friends and co-workers, some of them organizing on social networks.

As part of a new initiative, activists collected contact information and addresses from demonstrators to make it easier to organize civic actions on a neighborhood level.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant, who attended Saturday’s rally, estimated that up to 500,000 people have taken part in the protests in Moscow, a city of 11.5 million.

He said the Kremlin has not figured out how to deal with the protest movement.

“Therefore, they alternate between taking tough action and stepping back from confrontation,” Pavlovsky said. “For the Kremlin, it is very worrying that Moscow no longer supports Putin, but it is very important that this is purely a Moscow phenomenon.”

Although opposition protests also were held Saturday in several other Russian cities, the largest, in St. Petersburg, drew only a few thousand people. Protests elsewhere attracted only hundreds or even dozens. About 100 attended an unsanctioned rally in Nizhny Novgorod and about 20 of them were detained.

The Moscow organizers had spent days in tense talks with the city government over the protest route for Saturday, typical of the bargaining that has preceded each of the opposition marches.

A protest on the eve of Putin’s inauguration ended in clashes with police, and the Kremlin responded by arresting some of the participants and approving a new draconian law that raised fines 150-fold for taking part in unsanctioned protests. The city, however, granted permission for the subsequent opposition rally in June, which was peaceful.

A day before the weekend rally, parliament expelled an opposition lawmaker who had turned against the Kremlin and joined the protest movement. Anger over the ouster of Gennady Gudkov may have helped to swell the ranks of the protesters.

“Russia no longer has a constitution,” Gudkov told the rally. “Russia no longer has rights, and Russia no longer has a parliament worthy of respect. Shame on this parliament, and shame on this government!”

Gudkov’s expulsion also means he loses his immunity from prosecution, and his supporters fear he could face arrest.

His son, Dmitry Gudkov, also a lawmaker, said he hopes the Kremlin will think twice about arresting his father after seeing the size of the protest. “They will either have to think about serious reforms and end their repressions, or they will come to a very bad end,” he said as marched with a column of protesters.

“It’s necessary right now for all Russians to come out into the streets to show the regime that changes are needed in our country, and that without them our country can’t develop,” said teacher Valentina Merkulova, who participated in Saturday’s protest. “The most important thing is that, the more Russians come out, the less bloody the change of regime, the change of power. A change of power is necessary.”