Brittney Griner’s situation has gotten much more serious. Her lawyers said today that she’s in the process of being moved to a penal colony in Russia. If that’s not grim enough news, they also say that they do not know her whereabouts and won’t know where she’s been moved until notified by mail, which could take up to two weeks.
When asked about Griner’s transfer in a press conference late Wednesday afternoon about the results of the midterm elections, President Biden said, “I am determined to get her home and get her home safely,” he told the White House press corp. “Her and others.”
Per multiple reports, Griner’s lawyers say the transfer began last Friday. Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February for carrying vape cartridges with trace amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage. She was returning to Russia to play for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, who she led to two Russian championships. The Phoenix Mercury forward, 32, is also a WNBA and two-time Olympic champion.
Griner pled guilty to the offense in July, saying she’d accidentally packed the cartridges. It’s widely believed that given Russia’s 97% conviction rate, Griner’s lawyers advised her to do so hoping for leniency.
Unfortunately, none was given. Griner was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years. An October appeal upheld the conviction. Though the U.S. has offered a prisoner swap with convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, serving out a 25-year-sentence in the United States, they say Russia’s counteroffer was untenable, though no details were released about it.
“We strongly protest the movement of Brittney Griner to a remote penal colony and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “I am committed to bringing home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan as soon as possible.”
Conditions in Russian penal colonies are notoriously poor. Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny, currently imprisoned in Russia told the New York Times last year, “You need to imagine something like a Chinese labor camp, where everybody marches in a line and where video cameras are hung everywhere,” he said. “There is constant control and a culture of snitching.”
Griner and her lawyers believed it would take months for Griner to be transferred, as is usually the case. This comes after Griner met with US officials last week, who said she was doing “as well as could be expected under the circumstances.”
The WNBA Players Association tweeted out a statement as well.
“We stand with Brittney Griner and will continue to call on all Americans and the global sports community to do the same with even more vigilance. We are crushed that this scary, seemingly never-ending nightmare continues. The lack of clarity and transparency in the process compounds the pain.”
Brittney’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also released a statement, saying that she is working with both the US government and the Richardson Foundation to work on Griner’s behalf. The foundation, run by former Arizona governor Bill Richardson works to bring US citizens detained overseas home.
“As we work through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where B.G. 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,” Kagawa Colas said.