Former Inmate Says Brittney Griner Could Be Jailed in ‘Gulag’ Prison


  • Maria Alyokhina, a former Pussy Riot member, spent two years in a penal colony in Russia.
  • Alyokhina said Griner could face extremely harsh conditions as she serves her sentence.
  • Griner’s appeal against a nine-year prison sentence was rejected by a Russian court in October.

A former inmate who spent almost two years in a penal colony in Russia compared being incarcerated to living in a Gulag labor camp. Now, the ex-inmate said, Brittney Griner could face the very same conditions.

Maria Alyokhina, a member of Russian punk bad Pussy Riot, was jailed for protesting against Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral in 2012. Alyokhina was released in December 2013.

“This is not a building with cells. This looks like a strange village, like a Gulag labour camp,” Alyokhina said in a Reuters report published on Thursday. Alyokhina likened life in a penal colony to the forced labor camps that imprisoned millions of Russians during Stalin’s regime between the 1920s and 1950s.

Griner’s appeal against a nine-year prison sentence was rejected by a Russian court in October. Griner was sentenced in August to a penal colony for possession and smuggling of drugs.

During Alyokhina’s time in a penal colony, she shared a room with 80 women, and they only had access to three toilets and no hot water, Reuters reported. Alyokhina added that the penal colony where she was incarcerated had “plank-like beds.” Inmates were subjected to solitary confinement for not buttoning up their coats properly or wearing their name tags the wrong way, per the report.

Brittney Griner.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

“It actually is a labour camp because by law all the prisoners should work. The quite cynical thing about this work is that prisoners usually sew police uniforms and uniforms for the Russian army, almost without salary,” Alyokhina said.

Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities found vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner was charged with drug trafficking, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail in Russia.

Alyokhina encouraged people to support Griner by sending cards and letters, adding that Griner should not be left “alone with this system,” according to Reuters.¬†

“It’s totally inhuman, it’s a Gulag, and when you feel yourself alone there, it’s much easier to give up,” Alyokhina said.

Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner told ABC’s The View that the rejection of the appeal was “absurd,” Insider previously reported. Griner’s wife added that she felt disheartened and there was “nothing more to expect from a legal standpoint.”

Human rights groups have accused Russia of using Griner as a “political pawn,” urging the Biden administration to campaign for her release. Griner’s only hope of being extradited to the US would be through a prisoner exchange between the US and Russia, but negotiations have appeared to stall, according to Bloomberg.

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