Basketball star Brittney Griner begins serving sentence in Russian penal colony

Lawyers say she is 'doing well as could be expected' as she starts nine-year sentence in remote corner of Russia

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Basketball star Brittney Griner has begun serving her sentence after being transferred to a remote Russian penal colony, her lawyers said on Thursday.

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

“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.”

The American athlete was handed nine years in prison in August after being found in possession of vape cartridges with cannabis oil at a Moscow airport in February.

The 32-year-old's case came amid fierce tension between Moscow and Washington over Russia's military offensive in Ukraine.

The IK-2 penal colony is in the town of Yavas in the central region of Mordovia, an area known for its harsh climate.

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

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service said that the IK-2 houses more than 800 inmates 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 spying and sentenced to 16 years in 2020.

His family says he has been mistreated and undergone sleep deprivation there.

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

Conditions in penal colonies are much harsher than in detention centres.

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

She had given evidence that she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries, and had never failed a drug test.

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 9:20 PM