Brittney Griner faces bleak life in Russian penal colony By Reuters


© Reuters. U.S. basketball participant Brittney Griner seems on a display screen by way of video hyperlink from the detention centre throughout a court docket listening to to contemplate an enchantment in opposition to her jail sentence, in Krasnogorsk, Moscow Area, Russia October 25, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozheni

By Mark Trevelyan, Filipp Lebedev and Simon Lewis

LONDON, (Reuters) – Tedious handbook work, poor hygiene and lack of entry to medical care – such are the situations awaiting U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russian penal colony after she misplaced her enchantment final week in opposition to a nine-year drug sentence.

It is a world acquainted to Maria Alyokhina, a member of feminist artwork ensemble Pussy Riot who spent almost two years as an inmate for her half in a 2012 punk protest in a Moscow cathedral in opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

The very first thing to know, Alyokhina mentioned in an interview, is {that a} penal colony is not any atypical jail.

“This isn’t a constructing with cells. This appears to be like like a wierd village, like a Gulag labour camp,” she mentioned, referring to the huge penal community established by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to isolate and crush inmates.

“It really is a labour camp as a result of by regulation all of the prisoners ought to work. The fairly cynical factor about this work is that prisoners normally sew police uniforms and uniforms for the Russian military, nearly with out wage.”

The colony was divided between a manufacturing unit space the place the prisoners made clothes and gloves and a “residing zone” the place Alyokhina mentioned 80 girls lived in a single room with simply three bogs and no scorching water.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, might quickly be transferred to a colony within the absence of an additional enchantment or an settlement between Washington and Moscow to swap her for a Russian arms vendor jailed in the US – a chance that was floated months in the past however has but to materialise.

HARSH RULES

In a Pussy Riot present that has toured the world and is now enjoying in Britain, Alyokhina relives the reminiscences of her time as an inmate – snowy jail yards, plank-like beds, lengthy spells in solitary confinement and punishment for minor infringements resembling an unbuttoned coat or poorly hooked up nametag.

She was continuously being videoed by jail guards “as a result of I’m a ‘well-known provocateur’,” she added.

Russia’s jail service didn’t reply to a request for remark for this text.

A newer penal colony detainee, Yelena, described an analogous regime to that skilled by Alyokhina a decade in the past.

Yelena, 34, served eight years in a Siberian colony after being convicted for possession of medication. She mentioned she was paid about 1,000 roubles ($16) a month for toiling 10-12 hours a day in a stitching workshop.

“Women with a powerful, athletic construct are sometimes given a lot heavier jobs. For instance, they load sacks of flour for a jail bakery or unload mountains of coal,” she mentioned.

Prisoners might face punishment for inexplicable “offences” resembling putting a wristwatch on a bedside desk. The final word sanction was solitary confinement, referred to as “the Vatican”.

“Simply because the Vatican is a state inside a state, solitary confinement is a jail inside a jail,” Yelena mentioned.

A gynaecologist paid a month-to-month go to to her colony, the place greater than 800 girls have been imprisoned.

“You do the maths, what are the probabilities of being the one to get by to a health care provider? Virtually zero,” she mentioned.

LANGUAGE BARRIER

For a foreigner with little or no Russian, it is tougher to navigate the system and cope with the isolation.

The brother of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving 16 years in a Russian penal colony on espionage expenses that he denies, mentioned he’s granted a 15-minute cellphone name every day to his dad and mom, can not name different members of the family or mates, and has no entry to e-mail or the web.

David Whelan mentioned his brother should work at the least eight hours a day, six days every week, on menial duties like making buttonholes, which has prompted him repetitive pressure harm.

Inmates sleep in barrack-like buildings and entry to many requirements, together with drugs, is determined by paying bribes to jail guards, he mentioned. Circumstances can rely closely on the whims of guards, the warden or elder inmates.

Paul appears to make use of his navy coaching “to get by simply day after day, to determine what battles to struggle and which battles to not struggle”, David Whelan mentioned.

“His cellphone calls even to our dad and mom are recorded. His letters have been all translated earlier than they went out. So you realize that all the pieces you do is being watched and you actually don’t have any sense of individuality.”

Alyokhina mentioned receiving playing cards and letters from the skin world provided a uncommon ray of hope, and he or she urged folks to assist Griner that manner.

She mentioned they need to use a machine translation and ship the textual content in each English and Russian to get it extra simply previous the jail censor.

“Don’t depart somebody alone with this technique,” she mentioned. “It’s very inhuman, it is a Gulag, and while you really feel your self alone there, it is a lot simpler to surrender.”

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