Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Basketball star Brittney Griner has been sent to a remote Russian prison colony to begin serving her sentence, her lawyers said.

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

“We visited her at the beginning of this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and is trying to stay strong as she adjusts to her new surroundings.”

The American athlete was sentenced to nine years in prison in August for possession of a vape cartridge containing a small amount of cannabis oil, after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.

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

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said: “Despite the fact that she is alone and now approaching nine months in custody separated from her loved ones, she is trying to stay strong.”

Colas also expressed gratitude to the Joe Biden administration, which pledged last week to secure Griner’s return. “I am telling you that I am determined to bring her home safely,” the US president said.

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

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

According to the Russian Federal Prison Service, IK-2 houses more than 800 prisoners who live in barracks.

Mordovia is also home to the IK-17 colony where Paul Whelan, a retired US Marine, is serving time after being convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

His family says he was mistreated and subjected to sleep deprivation there.

Russian penal colonies are known for their harsh treatment of prisoners, unsanitary conditions and lack of proper health care.

Conditions in penal colonies are much more difficult than in detention centers.

Activists say abuse and torture are common in Russia’s vast network of prisons, heirs 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 Ekaterinburg professional team during the offseason from the Phoenix Mercury.

She pleaded guilty to the charges but said she did not intend to break the law or use a banned substance in Russia.

Griner testified that she had permission from an American doctor to use medical cannabis to relieve pain from her numerous injuries, and that she had never failed a drug test.

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.