Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who was freed Monday in a Kremlin-backed amnesty, slammed Russia's prison system and said that the whole country is built like a penal colony.
"Russia is built on the model of a penal colony and that is why it is so important to change the penal colonies today to change Russia," Tolokonnikova told journalists after her release. "Penal colonies and prisons are the face of the country."
She said she and released bandmate Maria Alyokhina will be working on a project focusing on rights of prisoners, using experience of spending a year and ten months in prison.
"I don't consider this time wasted," she said. "I gained unique experience which will make it easier to really engage in human rights work. "I became older, I saw the state from within, I saw this totalitarian machine as it is."
Addressing journalists, she said her views have not changed since she was arrested for performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour protesting Vladimir Putin's re-election campaign.
"Prisoners should be treated like normal human beings ... not like trash," she said, specifically mentioning her previous penal colony in Mordovia in central Russia, where "people were being murdered morally and physically."
Tolokonnikova spent the majority of her sentence in Mordovia, and in September exposed a litany of abuses in the colony in a public letter.
She said convicts were treated as slave labour, fed rotten food and refused basic facilities or medical care. She declared a hunger strike and was eventually transferred to a different region.
Tolokonnikova said she plans to meet with Alyokhina as soon as possible. "We have a plan to create a human rights organisation that would help political prisoners," she said.