American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner is being transferred to a Russian penal colony where she is to serve the remainder of a nine-year sentence for drug trafficking which was confirmed at the end of October.
Griner “is now on his way to a penal colony,” his attorneys said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“We have no information about its exact current location or final destination,” attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said. “In accordance with standard Russian procedure, lawyers, as well as the US Embassy, must be notified of his arrival at his destination. Notification is given by official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received.
Russian penal colonies are notorious for their lack of hygiene and access to medical care, with detainees often required to perform manual labor.
She has repeatedly apologized for bringing a small amount of cannabis into the country, where she was playing off-season basketball.
In a statement, representatives for Griner said they did not know where she was — or what her condition was.
“Our primary concern continues to be the health and well-being of BG,” Griner agent Lindsay Colas said. “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.”
Russia “unfortunately followed past practice” and did not notify the United States before moving Griner, a senior State Department official said Wednesday. While US officials expected Griner to be transferred, they learned about the move from his legal team and news reports.
US diplomats asked Russia for information about Griner, but Russia provided no response, the official said.
“We are communicating very clearly to the Russians requesting information on his current location as well as his destination in addition to the message that we expect in accordance with their obligations, including under the Vienna Convention, to have consistent consular access to Brittney Griner,” the official said.
Griner’s detention has raised concerns that she will be used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The US government condemned the rejection of his appeal last week, with a State Department spokesperson calling it “another rejection of justice, which only compounds the initial injustice of his detention.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the news of Griner’s transfer “another injustice on top of his unjust and unjustified detention”.
“As we work to secure the release of Brittney Griner, we expect Russian authorities to provide our Embassy officials with regular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Brittney, as is their obligation,” Blinken said in a statement Wednesday. “Ensuring the health and well-being of American citizens detained in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to push for fair and transparent treatment for all of them.”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday he hoped Russia would talk more seriously about a prisoner swap after Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“My intention is to bring her home, and we’ve had a number of discussions so far. And hopefully now that our election is over, there’s a willingness to negotiate more specifically with that,” Biden said at a press conference.
“I’m telling you, I’m determined to get her home and get her home safe, with others, might I add,” Biden said.
U.S. officials “continue to work tirelessly to bring home” both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russiawho was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of espionage – charges he denies.
“We won’t back down until they find their loved ones,” Blinken said Wednesday.