US protests transfer of basketball star Griner to Russian penal colony

  • The NBA star was removed from custody near Moscow on November 4
  • Griner faces 9 years in prison for drug trafficking
  • Lawyers don’t know his location or destination

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Russian authorities last week transferred U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner from a detention center outside Moscow and she is now on her way to an undisclosed penal colony, his legal team and Washington’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested on February 17 – a week before Russia invaded Ukraine – at a Moscow airport, where she was found to have vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil, banned in Russia, in his luggage.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday that Griner was being moved to a “remote penal colony” and that the United States expected Russian authorities to allow their embassy officials access to Griner and to other Americans detained in Russia.

“We strongly protest Brittney Griner’s move to a remote penal colony and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions,” Blinken said in a separate Twitter post.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association, in a statement, said it was “crushed” by the decision, calling it a “scary and seemingly endless nightmare”, adding that “the lack of clarity and transparency in the process aggravates pain”.

Griner, 32, was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony for drug possession and trafficking. She had pleaded guilty, but said she had made an “honest mistake” and did not mean to break the law.

She was transferred from a detention center near the Russian capital on November 4 to be taken to a penal colony, but neither her current location nor her final destination are known, her legal team said in a statement.

In accordance with Russian procedures, they said his lawyers and the US Embassy should be notified of his arrival, but it would take up to two weeks for that to happen.

Russia did not inform the United States that Griner was moved, according to a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reuters has asked the Russian Federal Prison Service for comment on where Griner is being taken and where she is currently.

Transfers to penal colonies can take time as groups of prisoners are rounded up and moved to different locations in the world’s largest country.

US President Joe Biden has ordered his administration to “prevail over her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony”.

In late July, the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia to secure Griner’s release, as well as that of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, but said Moscow had yet to respond positively to the deal. offer.

Russia declined to comment on the state of negotiations, saying such diplomacy should not be conducted in public.

Sour ties between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine complicated the talks.

“Despite a lack of good faith negotiation on the part of the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to pursue this offer and to pursue alternative avenues with the Russians through all available channels,” the spokeswoman said. of the White House, Karinne Jean-Pierre.

Discussions on the proposed swap have “not been a static process,” the senior State Department official added.

Griner’s lawyers have yet to say whether they will attempt a further appeal against his conviction after a Russian court. rejected an attempted appeal on October 25.

DIFFICULT CONDITIONS

Prisoners in Russian penal colonies cope with a severe diet heavy manual labor, poor hygiene and lack of adequate access to medical care.

Maria Alyokhina, who served nearly two years for her role in a 2012 punk protest at a Moscow cathedral by feminist group Pussy Riot, told Reuters in an interview last week that she was one of 80 women sleeping in a room with only three toilets and no hot water. She compared the conditions to a Gulag labor camp under the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

“Our primary concern continues to be the health and well-being of BG,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas said in a separate statement, referring to the player by her initials.

“As we go through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is or how she is doing, we ask for the support of the public to continue writing letters and expressing their love and care for her,” Colas said.

Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan, Filipp Lebedev, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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