Basketball player Brittney Griner moved to Russian penal colony

Russian penal colonies are known for their harsh conditions, as prisoners are forced to work.

FILE - WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022. The jailed American basketball star has been moved to a penal colony in Russia, her legal team said Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
The jailed American basketball star has been moved to a penal colony in Russia, her legal team says [File: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]

American basketball player Brittney Griner has been moved to a penal colony in Russia, her lawyers said, after a court rejected her appeal of a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession last month.

“Brittney was transferred from the detention centre in Iksha on the 4th November. She is now on her way to a penal colony. We do not have any information on her exact current location or her final destination,” a statement from her legal team said on Wednesday.

Griner was arrested at Moscow’s airport for possessing banned vape cartridges containing cannabis oil on February 17, a week before Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist pleaded guilty, saying she had made an “honest mistake” by inadvertently packing them in haste.

Her defence team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

On August 4, Griner was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for possessing and smuggling drugs.

Griner’s lawyers say they do not know her final destination but in line with Russian procedures, they and the United States embassy should be informed upon her arrival. It can take up to two weeks to receive the notification.

Penal colonies in Russia, where prisoners are required to perform work, are infamous for their harsh living conditions.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long.

“As we have said before, the US government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens.”

In late July, the Biden administration offered a deal to exchange prisoners with Russia to secure Griner’s release. Russia has yet to positively respond to the offer.

Washington had reportedly offered to swap Griner and Paul Whelan – an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage – for Viktor Bout.

Nicknamed the “merchant of death”, the Russian arms dealer is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.

In 2020, Whelan was convicted by Russia of spying and jailed for 16 years, an accusation he has denied. Washington has demanded his release.

“Despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the US government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” Jean-Pierre said.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in an earlier statement, described Griner’s conditions as “intolerable”.

On November 3, officials from the US embassy in Moscow met with imprisoned Griner, promising to keep pushing for her release.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Kyiv have carried out several prisoner swaps during the war.

In October, 218 detainees, including 108 Ukrainian women, were exchanged in the biggest prisoner swap so far.

Source: News Agencies