The US is protesting the transfer of basketball star Griner to a Russian penal colony
- The NBA star was moved from detention near Moscow on November 4
- Griner faces 9 years in prison for drugs
- The lawyers do not know her location or destination
WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was transferred from a detention center outside Moscow by Russian authorities last week and is now on her way to an undisclosed penal colony, her legal team and Washington’s top diplomat said on Wednesday.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested on February 17 – a week before Russia invaded Ukraine – at a Moscow airport, where vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, were found in her luggage.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday that Griner had been transferred to a “remote penal colony” and that the United States expected Russian authorities to provide its embassy officials with access to Griner and other Americans detained in Russia.
“We strongly protest the transfer of Brittney Griner to a remote penal colony and the Russian government’s use of illegal detention,” Blinken said in a separate post on Twitter.
The National Women’s Basketball Association said in a statement that it was “heartbroken” by the move, calling it a “terrible, seemingly never-ending nightmare,” adding that “the lack of clarity and transparency in the process adds to the pain.”
Griner (32) was sentenced on August 4 to nine years in prison for drug possession and trafficking. She pleaded guilty but said she made an “honest mistake” and did not intend 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 is known, her legal team said in a statement.
In accordance with Russian procedures, they said her lawyers and the US embassy should be notified of her arrival, but that it would take up to two weeks for that to happen.
Russia did not inform the United States that Griner was being transferred, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reuters has sought comment from Russia’s Federal Prison Service on where Griner was taken and where she is now.
Transfers to penal colonies can be lengthy as groups of inmates are rounded up and moved to different locations across the world’s largest country.
US President Joe Biden ordered his administration to “overcome her Russian captors to improve the treatment and conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony.”
The Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia in late July to secure Griner’s release, as well as the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, but said Moscow had yet to respond positively to the offer.
Russia declined to comment on the state of negotiations, saying such diplomacy should not be conducted in public.
The deterioration of ties between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine has complicated the talks.
“Despite the lack of good faith negotiations by the Russians, the US government has continued to pursue that offer and to suggest alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” White House spokeswoman Karinne Jean-Pierre said.
Discussions about the proposed replacement are “not a static process,” a senior State Department official added.
Griner’s lawyers have not yet said whether they will try to file a further appeal against her conviction after the Russian court rejected attempted appeal on October 25.
Prisoners in Russian penal colonies face a harsh regime hard manual work, poor hygiene and lack of adequate access to medical care.
Maria Alyokhina, who served nearly two years for her role in the 2012 punk protest by feminist group Pussy Riot at a Moscow cathedral, told Reuters in an interview last week that she was one of 80 women who slept in a single room with only three toilets and without hot water. She compared the conditions to a Gulag labor camp under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“Our primary concern remains 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 and how she is doing, we are asking for the public’s support to continue writing letters and expressing our love and concern for her,” Colas said.
Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan, Filip Lebedev, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editors Andrew Osborn, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis
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