Pussy riot
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot travelled to the UK after they spent 21 months in prison for taking part in an anti-government protest in RussiaGetty Images

Russian inmates "are treated like cattle" according to members of Russian feminist punk-rock activist and protest group Pussy Riots.

The two punk-rock activists Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina made the comment in an interview with the Guardian as they are spending one week in the UK to discuss politics, human rights and prison reform.

The pair, who launched a prison reform project and a media website, Mediazona, in Russia, said that prison staff treat prisoners as "animals put in custody for care".

"This is why they [warders] very casually beat people up. They don't have a sense that they [inmates] are human."

According to their investigation, female inmates caught smoking are punished by being forced to dig a huge symbolic grave to drop their cigarette in. Inmates are also forced to go to the toilet in the freezing cold.

"We try and cover everything about prisons and the broader law-enforcement field. If you read Mediazona for a week you won't be able to say there are no political prisoners in Russia," Alyokhina said.

Speaking of Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, the two women said the pro-government propaganda surrounding the leader deprived ordinary citizens of the ability to make informed political decisions, in a state characterised by political passivity.

pussy riots
Members of the punk band chanted an anti-Putin song at the altar of Russia’s main cathedralpussy-riot.livejournal.com

"People in Russia right now are not in a situation where they think they can choose a government. When all media and TV talks only about Putin it's very difficult for people to develop a sense that they can choose between various parties. When you talk about Putin's support people are supporting an empty space."

They dismissed Putin's conservative values agenda as hypocrisy, adding: "He has no programme and no plan."

The pair also added they supported western sanctions applied against Russia following the war in eastern Ukraine which has pitted pro-Russia rebels – aided by Putin – against government troops. The ongoing conflict has caused hundreds of casualties.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina travelled to the UK to promote their activist work after they spent nearly two years in prison for participating in an anti-government protest in Russia in which they chanted: "Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish Putin!"