Russian authorities have not provided any updates on Griner’s location for two weeks, since she was transferred out of a detention center near Moscow earlier this month. But a source familiar with the case told Reuters Griner has officially been moved to Female Penal Colony IK-2 in Yavas, where she will serve out the remainder of her sentence, 300 miles southeast of Moscow.
“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”
Russian penal colonies are said to be akin to medieval chambers, with long working hours spent on physical tasks like sewing, unsubstantial access to medical care, and subpar hygienic conditions, according to Reuters. Not much is known about the Yavas penal colony, but the BBC says it does not have a good reputation. Former inmate Irina Noskova, who worked as a seamstress in the colony, told Russia’s New Times in 2013 that prisoners would be beaten if they did not work fast enough.
The Mordovia colony Griner is also said to be at is the same region where fellow American Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges. The Biden administration previously proposed a prisoner swap: A Russian arms dealer for both Whelan and Griner’s safe return to American soil.
While the BBC says women prisoners typically aren’t subjected to some of the harsher punishments as men are, Olga Podoplelova of the NGO, Russia Behind Bars, told the outlet that inmates are still expected to work between 12 and 16 hours a day with only lunch and restroom breaks.
“Daily quotas are set very high, but one official salary is normally shared by several inmates,” she says. “As a result, inmate workers only get a pay of several hundred roubles a month,” or a few dollars a month.
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. Both her legal team and U.S. officials were made aware that her transfer process had started days after the fact.