Brittney Griner Sent To Russian Penal Colony, Past Inmates Describe “Tough” & “Grim” Conditions Of Alleged Labor Camp
Per recent reports, 32-year-old WNBA star Brittney Griner has been shipped off to a Russian penal colony to serve out her nine-year prison sentence.
According to Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, the current whereabouts of their client is unknown. The location of where she is being taken is also unknown, but Griner’s attorneys are expected to be updated on where she is upon arrival.
Penal colonies in Russia have historically attracted attention and concern from human rights activists internationally. The conditions are often described as “tough” and “grim.” At the colonies, inmates are often housed in barracks, not cells. They are usually put to work, according to reports, and some compare the colonies to labor camps.
The journey to get to the colony can sometimes be long and dangerous with some reports saying it could take up to one month to get there and transportation is often in a crowded train.
CNN reports that the colonies were built “during the Soviet Union and have been compared by think tanks and human rights organizations to Soviet-era gulags – tough prison camps that expanded across the region during Joseph Stalin’s rule in the mid-20th century.”
The news outlet interviewed a former inmate from a colony who was imprisoned for breaking Russian laws regarding protesting. The inmate told CNN this:
“From the first minutes you are here you are experiencing mental and moral pressure,” he told CNN.
“You are forced to do things that you would never do in normal life. You are forbidden to talk with other convicts. They force you to learn the list of names of the employees. You are on your feet all day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. You are not allowed to sit down. They do not allow you to read, they do not allow you to write a letter. It can last two weeks, it can last three weeks.”
Another former inmate told CNN it was like a “concentration camp”, another called it a “labor camp. ” Some accounts from former inmates describe allegations of overcrowded conditions, iron bunk beds in barracks, early rising to listen to the Russian National Anthem and sew uniforms for the military, restrictions on reading or writing and constant surveillance with consequences for violations.
Griner entered a guilty plea to narcotics possession and smuggling charges during her drug trial, after initially being detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Griner was recently convicted. It was undisputed that vape cartridges containing cannabis oils were found in Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport, which is a felony in Russia that carries a maximum of 10-years in prison. The player acknowledged that the oils were in her luggage and testified that she had no criminal intent.
Griner attempted to appeal the sentencing. The appeal hearing was held via Zoom and Griner called her situation “traumatic” when speaking to the court about how she’s being kept away from her family. She pleaded for the court to reassess what went “overlooked” during her last drug trial and give her a lesser sentence.
“I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given. I really hope the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and my psyche and being away from my family, not being able to communicate.”
Griner’s lawyers also argued that the imposed sentencing was excessive and “absolutely unreasonable” in comparison to other similar cases that took place on Russian soil. However, a Moscow Regional Court denied the player’s appeal. She will still have to serve about eight years, even with credit for time served, unless released through a prisoner swap arranged via diplomatic negotiations.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement, emphasizing that the Biden Administration remains committed to bringing Griner home.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long As we have said before, the U.S. Government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens.”
The administration reportedly has offered Russian Arms Dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner, and Paul Whelan. Whelan has been detained at a hostel in Moscow. He was arrested on alleged espionage charges. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of the charges in June 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Wednesday. Blinken says that Griner’s transfer is yet another example of injustice against the player.
“Following a sham trial and the unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner, Moscow is transferring her from a prison in Moscow to a remote penal colony. It is another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.”
“As we work to secure Brittney Griner’s release, we expect Russian authorities to provide our Embassy officials with regular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Brittney, as is their obligation. Ensuring the health and welfare of U.S. citizen detainees in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for them all.”
More continuing coverage on Griner HERE.