The American athlete was sentenced to nine years in prison for possessing vaporizer cartridges with a small amount of cannabis oil – Copyright AFP/File Delil SOULEIMAN
Basketball star Brittney Griner, whose plight has sparked widespread anger in the United States, has been sent to a remote Russian penal colony, her lawyers said Thursday.
The American athlete was sentenced to nine years in prison in August for possessing vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil, after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.
The case of the 32-year-old comes amid strong tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.
“Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia,” lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.
“We visited her earlier this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and she is trying to stay strong as she adjusts to a new environment.”
The lawyers said no further comment would be provided “considering that this is a very challenging period for her.”
Last week, US President Joe Biden expressed hope that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would negotiate “more seriously” to free Griner.
“My intention is to bring her home, and so far we have had several discussions,” he said at the time.
On Monday, US and Russian spy chiefs held a rare face-to-face meeting in Ankara about American prisoners held by the Kremlin as well as Moscow’s nuclear threats in Ukraine, the White House said.
In what appeared to be the highest-level direct talks between officials from the two countries since Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, met with Sergei Naryshkin, head of the intelligence service. foreign intelligence SVR of Russia.
Observers have suggested that Griner and another American jailed in Russia, Paul Whelan, a retired US Marine arrested in December 2018 and accused of espionage, could be traded for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer who is turning 25 years old. prison for a 2012 conviction.
– Abuse in prisons –
The IK-2 penal colony is located in the town of Yavas, in the central region of Mordovia, known for its harsh climate.
The IK stands for a “corrective colony”, the most common type of prison in Russia.
According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, IK-2 houses more than 800 inmates living in barracks.
Mordovia is also home to the IK-17 colony where Whelan is serving time, after he was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in 2020.
His family says he has been mistreated and deprived of sleep there.
Russian penal colonies are notorious for harsh treatment of inmates, unsanitary conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care.
Conditions in penal colonies are much harsher than in detention centers.
Activists say abuse and torture are prevalent in Russia’s vast prison network, a successor to the notorious Stalin-era Gulag system.
When Griner was arrested, the two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and NBA women’s champion was in Russia to play for the Yekaterinburg pro team during their offseason for the Phoenix Mercury.
He pleaded guilty to the charges, but said he did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.
Griner had testified that he had permission from a US doctor to use medical cannabis to relieve pain from his many injuries and had never failed a drug test.
The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.
Tensions with Russia have soared over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, where the United States is sending billions of dollars in weapons.