(Moscow) American basketball star Brittney Griner, sentenced in Russia to nine years in prison, is being transferred to an unidentified penal colony, her lawyers said on Wednesday, an incommunicado journey that can drag on forever.
The 32-year-old athlete was convicted in August of “drug trafficking”. His supporters denounce an unfounded and political decision, in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine, with a view to a possible exchange of prisoners between Moscow and Washington.
In a statement, her lawyers said she left her remand center near Moscow on November 4 and was now “on her way to a penal colony.”
In Russia, this type of transfer, often to isolated sites, can take several days, sometimes even weeks.
Generally, the prisoners travel in special trains through the huge Russian territory, with stops in different prisons, without the possibility of communicating.
Relatives of detainees are most often not informed of the place of detention until they have arrived at their final destination. This is also the case for Mr.me Griner who have “no information on her exact whereabouts”.
US President Joe Biden is demanding that Moscow “improve the treatment and conditions that she may be forced to undergo” in this colony, responded White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
“Every minute Brittney Griner has to endure unjustified detention in Russia is a minute too long,” she added.
Brittney Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport in possession of a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid.
She had admitted the facts, but claimed to have brought the substance inadvertently, while she uses it legally in the United States as a painkiller. The Russian court showed him no leniency, sentencing the sportswoman in August to nine years in prison for “drug trafficking”.
The women’s basketball star was traveling to Russia to play there during the U.S. offseason, a common practice for women’s basketball players in the North American Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) who often make a better living abroad than in the United States. United.
During the trial, her team from the Russian city of Yekaterinburg pleaded for the player. Without success.
And on October 25, his appeal was rejected, paving the way for his transfer to a penal colony.
Exchange of prisoners?
The case of this woman took on a geopolitical dimension in the context of the crisis between Moscow and Washington linked to the offensive in Ukraine. Other American citizens are incarcerated in Russia and the United States also wants to secure their release.
Washington has repeatedly indicated that it has submitted to Russia a “significant offer” for the release of the sportswoman, and another American detained, the former soldier Paul Whelan.
Mr. Whelan’s family regularly denounces his conditions of detention in a colony in the Russian region of Mordovia. She claims it is deliberateMme nt deprived of sleep and cannot get the medical care he needs.
Cases of torture and mass rape in the Russian penal colonies, inherited from the Soviet concentration camp system, are regularly reported.
“If the Kremlin decides not to torture (Griner) and gives her VIP conditions, then she will have the right to have a separate diet, to play sports, to keep in shape,” he told AFP. Vladimir Ossetchkine, head of the NGO Gulagu.net, which specializes in defending the rights of detainees in Russia.
“But if the prison administration is ordered to put pressure on her, her life and health will be in danger,” he continued.
According to Russian diplomatic sources, a possible prisoner exchange could involve Brittney Griner and a Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
Russians and Americans have agreed in the past on several exchanges of prisoners. The last dates back to April, when an ex-US Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for violence, was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot imprisoned for cocaine trafficking.