The American basketball star Brittney Griner was transferred to a penal colony outside Moscow on Thursday, her lawyers said, where she will begin to serve a nine-year prison term after a Russian court convicted her on a drug charge.
Ms. Griner, 32, had been moved to the IK-2 female penal colony in the small town of Yavas, about 300 miles southeast of Moscow, the lawyers said in a statement. According to the website of the Russian prisons’ service, the colony is capable of holding 820 inmates.
“Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment,” the lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Aleksandr Boikov, said in the statement, adding that this is “a very challenging period for her.”
Her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also released a statement, saying: “Despite the fact she is alone and now nearing her ninth month in detention separated from her loved ones, she is trying to stay strong.” She also expressed gratitude to the Biden administration, which has been under pressure from Ms. Griner’s wife and supporters to work more aggressively to secure her release.
A 2017 article by Moskovsky Komsomolets, a Russian newspaper, described widespread torture, harsh beatings and slave labor conditions in the IK-2. Inmates often work from 7 a.m. until midnight or later and are not allowed to use a washroom, the article said, quoting former inmates.
Yavas was founded in early Soviet times as a penitentiary center. Apart from the IK-2 there are two other penal colonies in the town.
Ms. Griner was arrested on the brink of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and her fate became entwined with high-stakes geopolitics and tense Russia-U.S. relations. She pleaded guilty to the drug charge, stemming from hash oil found in her luggage, but insisted she had no intent to break the law. The Russian court hearing her case sentenced Ms. Griner to nine years in prison for drug smuggling.
The harshness of the sentence — described by her lawyers as having little precedent — has been denounced by the U.S. government and Ms. Griner’s supporters as evidence that the punishment was politically motivated.
Late last month, a Russian court upheld Ms. Griner’s sentence, setting the stage for her transfer to a penal colony, even as American and Russian officials broached the possibility of a prisoner exchange. Little has emerged from those negotiations so far.