Exclusive: Brittney Griner taken to penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region

Nov 17 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, facing nine years in prison in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, has been transferred to a penal colony about 500 km (300 miles) southeast of Moscow, her lawyer said on Thursday.

Griner was sentenced in August after he was arrested at a Moscow airport in February with a vape cartridge containing cannabis oil in his luggage. She was transferred from a detention center near Moscow on November 4 taken to an undisclosed prison location.

His legal team, confirming the previous Reuters story, said Griner had been taken to the female Penal Colony IK-2 in the city of Yavas in the region of Mordovia.

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“We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia. We visited her early this week,” said Maria Blagovina and Alexander Boikov’s lawyer in a statement.

“Brittney is doing as expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to her new environment,” he said.

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

Asked about Griner’s case before the lawyer’s statement was released, a US State Department spokesman said: “We are aware of the reports of his location, and are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team.

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“However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide official notification for such movements of US citizens, which we strongly protest.”

Inmates of Russian penal colonies were required to work long hours for little pay at tedious manual tasks such as sewing. Former prisoners and human rights groups describe the conditions as harsh and unhygienic, with little access to medical care.

Russia and the United States have discussed replacing Griner and Whelan, a former US Marine, for a Russian arms dealer jailed in the United States, but no deal has materialized amid heightened tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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At his trial, Griner – who played basketball for the Russian team in the US off-season – said he had used cannabis to relieve a sports injury but did not mean to break the law. He told the court that he made an honest mistake​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; written by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Toby Chopra, David Ljunggren and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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