US basketball star Griner begins serving sentence in Russian penal colony

Issued on: 17/11/2022 – 21:49

File photo of US basketball star Brittney Griner at a court in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, taken on August 4, 2022. © Evgenia Novozhenina, Reuters

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US basketball star Brittney Griner has been sent to a remote Russian penal colony and begun serving her nine-year sentence for drug possession, her lawyers and agent said Thursday. 


Griner has been relocated to a penal colony in Mordovia, about 350 kilometres (210 miles) east of Moscow.

“Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia,” lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

“We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment.”

Griner was handed nine years in prison in August for possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil, after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.

The 32-year-old’s case came amid fierce tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

Conditions in penal colonies harsher than jails

Mordovia is the same region where another American, Paul Whelan, is serving a 16-year sentence in a different penal settlement after being convicted of espionage charges that he denies.

The IK-2 penal colony is 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 Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, the IK-2 houses more than 800 inmates who live in barracks.

Inmates of Russian penal colonies are required to work long hours for meagre pay on tedious manual tasks such as sewing. Former prisoners and human rights groups describe conditions there as harsh and unhygienic

Conditions in penal colonies are also much harsher than in detention centres.

Activists say abuse and torture are frequent in Russia’s vast network of prisons, a successor to the notorious Gulag system of the Stalin era.

When Griner was arrested, the two-time Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion had been in Russia to play for the professional Yekaterinburg team, during her off-season from the Phoenix Mercury.

At her trial, Griner – who played basketball for a Russian team in the US off-season – said she had used cannabis for relief from sports injuries but had not meant to break the law, or use the banned substance in Russia. She told the court she made an honest mistake by packing the cartridges in her luggage. 

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.

Russia and the US have discussed swapping Griner and Whelan for a Russian arms dealer jailed in the US, but no deal has materialised amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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