What are the conditions like in Russian penal colonies? Here’s what could be in store for Brittney Griner
Russia’s infamous penal colonies in contrast to conventional prisons in the West. Here’s what you need to know.
Griner’s attorneys said they did not immediately know where her final destination would be. This is not unusual: the process of taking a person to a penal colony in Russia takes place in secret, and relatives and lawyers often do not know where the prisoner is being sent for several days, he said. International amnesty.
Last month, Griner lost the appeal against a nine-year sentence for drugs. She was detained in February and convicted in August of intentionally smuggling drugs into Russia.
She has repeatedly apologized for bringing a small amount of cannabis into the country, where she played basketball in the off-season.
“Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being,” said her agent, Lindsay Colas. “As we go through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is and how she is doing, we are asking for the public’s support to continue to write letters and express our love and concern for her.”
Griner’s detention has raised concerns that she is being used as a political pawn Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The vast majority of prisons in Russia are effectively penal colonies, where prisoners are housed in barracks instead of cells and are often put to work, he said. report by the Polish think tank Center for Eastern Studies (OSW).
More than 800 such facilities existed across Russia as of 2019, the organization said.
Most were built during the Soviet Union and have been compared by think tanks and human rights organizations to Soviet-era gulags – harsh prison camps that spread across the region during Joseph Stalin’s rule in the mid-20th century.
Russia has almost half a million prisoners in all its prison facilities, one of the highest rates in Europe, according to the data World Prison Brief – although the number has declined in recent years, unlike in most parts of the world.
The level of supervision and restrictions placed on prisoners today depends on the type of institution they are sentenced to, and not all require work.
But a number of prominent dissidents, activists and foreign nationals who were sent to the austere colonies described harrowing and difficult experiences.
Detainees are often transported long distances across the country, and journeys to the colonies are dangerous and can take up to a month, Amnesty International said in a report.
The watchdog said these journeys often take place in cramped carriages. And prisoners often arrive in facilities with poor and outdated infrastructure and suffer from overcrowding, OSW found.
“Despite several attempts to reform the prison system in Russia, they still resemble the Soviet Gulag: human rights violations and torture are common,” says OSW.
One ex-prisoner, Konstantin Kotov, served what he said were two miserable terms—the first four months, the second six months—in Penal Colony No. 2 outside Moscow for violating Russia’s anti-protest laws.
He was last released in December 2020 told CNN last year about the prisoner experience.
“From the first minutes you’re here, you experience mental and moral pressure,” he told CNN.
“You are forced to do things you would never do in a normal life. You are forbidden to talk to other convicted persons. They make you learn a list of employee names. You’re on your feet all day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. You are not allowed to sit. They don’t let you read, they don’t let you write a letter. It could last two weeks, it could last three weeks.”
Kotov explained that the prisoners sleep in barracks in iron bunk beds. About 50 to 60 men slept in his room, he said, each with only a small amount of living space.
“You get up at 6 in the morning, go out to the nearby yard and listen to the Russian national anthem – every day the national anthem of the Russian Federation,” he said.
“You can’t write, you can’t read. For example, I watched TV, Russian federal channels, almost all day. This is torture by television.”
Griner is not the first celebrity to be sent to a penal colony. The leader of the Russian opposition is in prison Alexey Navalny was able to offer his initial impressions after arriving at the facility last year, in a post on his official Instagram account.
“I had no idea that it was possible to organize a real concentration camp 100 kilometers from Moscow,” Navalny said, adding that his head was shaved.
“Video cameras are everywhere, everyone is monitored and a report is made at the slightest violation. I think someone up there has read Orwell’s ‘1984,’” Navalny continued, referring to the classic dystopian novel.
Members of the activist art group Pussy Riot were also sentenced to prison terms. “This is not a building with cells. This looks like a strange village, like a Gulag labor camp,” member Maria Alyokhina told Reuters last week.
“It is actually a labor camp because by law all prisoners must work. The rather cynical thing about this business is that prisoners usually sew police uniforms and uniforms for the Russian army, for almost no pay.”
The colony was divided between a factory section where prisoners made clothes and gloves and a “living zone” where Alyokhina said 80 women lived in one room with only three toilets and no hot water.
Another member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, continued 2013 hunger strike in protest against being returned to Penal Colony no. 14 in the region of Mordovia.
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