US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in August for drug smuggling, is seen on a screen via a video link from a remand prison during a court hearing to consider an appeal against her sentence, at the Moscow regional court on October 25.
(Kirll Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)
US basketball star Brittney Griner has been moved to a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region, her legal team told CNN in a statement Thursday.
“We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia. 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’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, told CNN on Thursday.
Griner’s lawyers said they would like to “thank everyone who has expressed care for her,” and that they have received “numerous messages of support.”
They added that “considering that this is a very challenging period for her,” there will be no further comment from them.
The US State Department said that Griner’s location has still not been shared with them by the Russian government.
“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson said Thursday.
“However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location,” the spokesperson added.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, also told CNN that the Russian legal team has seen the WNBA star at the penal colony, where she has begun serving her 9-year sentence.
“Despite the fact she is alone and now nearing her ninth month in detention separated from her loved ones, she is trying to stay strong. At this time, we will not be sharing any further details, but want to express our deepest thanks to the Biden Administration, the Richardson Center, and to everyone who has reached out to offer words of encouragement to her,” Colas said.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport shortly before the war began and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
The Russian region of Mordovia, which is more than 300 miles from Moscow, is the same region where American Paul Whelan is being held. The former US Marine is serving 16 years in a different penal colony on espionage charges that he denies.
What is life like in a penal colony? While the conditions vary greatly in different Russian penal colonies, there are reports of political prisoners being placed in harsh conditions. Prisoners can be subjected to “solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units,” the State Department’s human rights report says.
Russian law also allows for forced labor in penal colonies, and in some cases, inmates have been tortured to death, the report says. There are also reports of prison authorities recruiting inmates to abuse other inmates, the report adds.