After spending nearly two years in a Russian prison for their charge of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," Pussy Riot members Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova went on to create Mediazona, a new independent media organization aimed at bringing attention to justice and prison issues in Russia.

"We were able to feel on our skin all the problems and difficulties of someone who is locked up in Russian prison," Alekhina told Mashable.

The project was launched earlier this year, and is focused on protecting prisoners' rights. With famed political journalist Sergey Smirnov as its editor-in-chief, it will closely monitor conditions in Russian prisons, police stations and courts.

Tolokonnikova hopes that this new media outlet will close the void created by the Kremlin's clampdown on independent media, which has been ongoing since the beginning of 2014.

"Since our release from prison we've felt that Russian media are no longer able to cover what is going on," said Tolokonnikova. "Because of the heavy censorship by authorities there is no space for anything in the media that criticizes Putin's policies and tracks human rights abuses by Russian courts and law enforcement. Courts, prisons, arrests, convictions, riots in facilities, political criminal cases, crimes by law enforcement officials -- our new media outlet will try to cover it all."

Alekhina believes that the focus of Russian social and political life has heavily shifted towards courts and prisons, saying, "There is hardly any political issues left in Russia outside of courtrooms -- and there is a great need for transparency and media coverage of things that are happening down there, so we hope that Mediazona will help close that gap and change the face of independent Russian media."

The two said that they were prompted to launch their own media outlet, rather than continue with their performances, because they see it as an extension of their actions to break down the information blackout imposed by Putin's authorities.

They are excited to be working with a crack team of Russian journalists, including Smirnov, Elena Shmaraeva, Egor Skovoroda and Maria Klimova. They call it Mediazona as an extension of their 'zona' umbrella term used for all of their projects.

"As you know, in addition to Mediazona, a couple months ago we've launched the prisoners rights NGO Zona Prava," said Alekhina. "We will take back the rights that belong to us from the state -- step by step."

The site has already come up against a backlash after President Vladimir Putin signed a law forcing "bloggers" and other Internet media sources to register with the government. Mediazona's attempts to register have been rejected, but they say it won't stop them.

"Just as those refusals from the Ministry of Justice of Russia did not stop us from pursuing our NGO activity... we can continue our activities as a news outlet without receiving any official approval or registration from the media control officials in Russia," said Alkehina.

For more information, visit http://www.zona.media


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