Basketball star Griner begins sentence in remote Russian jail: lawyers

Basketball star Griner begins sentence in remote Russian jail: lawyers


Basketball star Brittney Griner, whose plight has sparked widespread anger across the United States, has been sent to a remote Russian penal colony, her lawyers said Thursday.

The US 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 32-year-old’s fall comes amid intense tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

“Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia,” attorneys 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 is trying to stay strong while adjusting to a new environment.”

The lawyers said no further comment would be made “considering that this is a very challenging time for them”.

Last week, US President Joe Biden expressed hope that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would negotiate Griner’s release “more seriously”.

“My intention is to bring her home and we’ve had a number of talks so far,” he said at the time.

On Monday, US and Russian spy chiefs held a rare face-to-face meeting in Ankara to discuss Americans being held captive by the Kremlin and Moscow’s nuclear threats in Ukraine, the White House said.

In what appears to be the highest-level direct talks between officials from the two countries since Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February, Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns met with Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency SVR.

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 famous Russian arms dealer who turned 25 in 2012 in prison sat conviction.

– Abuse in prisons –

The IK-2 penal colony is located in the city of Yavas in the central region of Mordovia, known for its harsh climate.

The IK stands for “correctional colony”, the most common type of prison in Russia.

According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, the 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 being convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in 2020.

His family says he was abused there and suffered sleep deprivation.

Russian penal colonies are notorious for their harsh treatment of inmates, unsanitary conditions and lack of access to proper health care.

Conditions in penal colonies are much harsher than in prisons.

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

When Griner was arrested, the two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and women’s NBA champion was in Russia to play for the Yekaterinburg pro team during her Phoenix Mercury offseason.

She pleaded guilty to the charges but said she had no intention of breaking the law or using the banned substance in Russia.

Griner had testified that she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve the pain of her many injuries and that she had never failed a drug test.

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.

Tensions with Russia have increased over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, to which the United States is sending billions of dollars in weapons.

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