Brittney Griner has been sent to a Russian penal colony, but both her current and final locations are unknown, her legal team said Wednesday morning.
The WNBA star has been wrongfully detained in Russia since February, when she was arrested for having small amounts of cannabis in her luggage. By August, a Russian court had convicted Griner on drug charges and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Her appeal was denied on Oct. 25, and, according to her attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, Griner’s transfer to a penal colony, where she will serve out her sentence, began Friday. Both her legal team and U.S. officials were not made aware the transfer process had started until Tuesday.
The transfer from the detention center in Iksha where she had been held began earlier than expected and came the day after U.S. embassy officials visited Griner, affirming that her “tenacity and perseverance” were still intact in the face of the awful circumstances. Blagovolina and Boykov have said that a transfer can take weeks or months. “In accordance with the standard Russian procedure, the attorneys, as well as the U.S. Embassy, should be notified upon her arrival at her destination. Notification is given via official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received,” her lawyers said on Wednesday. That means word of Griner’s location and notice of her safe arrival will be confirmed via “snail-mail.”
Griner’s family’s worst fears have now been confirmed, as their beloved “BG” heads to an undisclosed Russian penal colony, which is akin to a work camp. These colonies can subject prisoners to torture, beatings, 16-hour work days, and repeated Russian propaganda viewings.
“As we work through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is or how she is doing, we ask for the public’s support in continuing to write letters and express their love and care for her. Our team remains in close contact with the U.S. Government,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said in a statement. “We are thankful for everyone’s support, and hope that as we near nine months of detention, that BG and all wrongfully detained Americans will be shown mercy and returned home to their families for the holidays.”
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In a statement following the news breaking on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long... The President has directed the Administration to prevail on her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called Griner’s transfer to the penal colony “another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention” in a Wednesday statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be sitting on a prisoner swap offer from the Biden administration, and despite “a lack of good faith negotiation,” the state department said the government continues to “propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels.”