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"Sent to a hole": near the Russian prison where Brittney Griner is serving her sentence

In the village of Iavas, lost 400 km southeast of Moscow, in the middle of snow-covered forests and swamps, where the women's colony No.

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"Sent to a hole": near the Russian prison where Brittney Griner is serving her sentence

In the village of Iavas, lost 400 km southeast of Moscow, in the middle of snow-covered forests and swamps, where the women's colony No. 2 is located, the fate of the basketball player leaves most of the players unmoved. local.

Sentenced in August, the African-American sportswoman, double Olympic champion, must serve a nine-year prison sentence there for "drug trafficking", after being arrested in February at a Moscow airport with a vaporizer and liquid containing cannabis, a banned product in Russia.

She says it was a treatment to soothe pain related to her intensive basketball practice. His supporters denounce a hostage-taking to haggle with Washington in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine. Negotiations are underway for an exchange of prisoners.

"Usually we bring here more detainees said to be particularly dangerous," remarks Vitali Doine, 48, a former prisoner who spent six years in a colony in Mordovia and became a taxi driver.

He says he is "surprised" that such a famous sportswoman has been sent into such a "hole".

The Republic of Mordovia hosts about twenty prisons. According to Vitali, all settlements in the region are "red", according to the unofficial classification of the prison environment in Russia. That is to say under the control of the guards, unlike the so-called "black" colonies which are under the control of mafia groups.

- "Lesbian, American and black" -

The village of Iavas was founded in 1921, when the Soviet Gulag archipelago was beginning to form. It still revolves around the prison economy: most of its inhabitants work in the prison administration, or have worked there.

At the local market, on this Saturday in November, the vast majority of residents say they have not heard of the Griner affair or refuse to speak to the press. Suddenly a woman stops as she goes shopping.

"The law is the same for everyone, for bigwigs and for ordinary people," reacts Svetlana, a woman in her fifties with dyed red hair who refuses to give her surname.

"If they sent her to prison, it's because she deserved it. If she has a good behavior, she will be released early and leave with a clear conscience."

It remains to be seen what treatment the American sportswoman will be entitled to.

Olga Romanova, director of the Rus' Sidiachchaia Fund, an NGO specializing in the defense of Russian detainees, explains that Brittney Griner's colony is a "normal" prison by the country's standards: cases of beatings of detainees have already been reported there , as well as "slavery-like" working conditions.

"But there are much worse prisons," said Olga Romanova, who lives in exile in Germany.

She explains that in women's prisons in Russia, unlike men's prisons, "there are no castes and no hierarchy" between inmates. Therefore, women are more on their own, according to Olga Romanova.

But the fact that the American is at the heart of talks for a possible exchange changes the situation. As long as negotiations are underway, the administration "will take care of it", notes Olga Romanova. "But if the negotiations stop, she will be in danger."

Three factors reinforce, according to Ms. Romanova, the risk of violence in prison against Griner: "She is lesbian, American and black".

This makes her a target for bullying in Russian prisons, marked by an extremely violent façade of homophobia, racism, and where the United States is seen as "the pure enemy", said Ms. Romanova.

"It's good that she doesn't speak Russian, she won't understand what is said to her," notes the expert. "In this case, I think it will solve problems."

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