Nov 17 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittany Griner, who faces nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, has been moved to a penal colony about 500 km (300 miles) southeast of Moscow, her lawyers said on Thursday.
Griner was sentenced in August following her arrest at a Moscow airport in February with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She was transferred from a detention center near Moscow on November 4 to be taken to an undisclosed location.
Her legal team, confirming an earlier Reuters story, said Griner was taken to the IK-2 penal colony in the town of Yabs in the Mordovia region.
“We can confirm that Brittany has started serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia. We visited her earlier this week,” lawyers Maria Blagobulina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.
“Britney is doing as well as can be expected and is trying to stay strong as she adjusts to a new environment,” they continued.
Mordovia is the area where another American, Paul Whelan, is serving a 16-year sentence in another sentencing arrangement after being convicted of espionage charges he denies.
When asked about Griner’s case before the release of the lawyers’ statement, a spokesperson for the US State Department said: “We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team.
“However, the Russian Federation has not yet provided any official notification of such a move by an American citizen, which we strongly protest.”
Prisoners in Russian penal colonies are required to work long hours for meager wages doing tedious manual tasks such as sewing. Former prisoners and human rights groups describe the conditions as harsh and unsanitary, with little access to medical care.
Russia and the U.S. discussed exchanging Griner Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, for a Russian arms dealer jailed in the U.S., but no deal materialized amid heightened tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At her trial, Griner – who played basketball for a Russian team in the off-season – said she used cannabis to relieve sports injuries, but did not intend to break the law. She told the court she made an honest mistake when she packed the cartridges in her luggage.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Toby Chopra, David Leungren and Cynthia Osterman
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