US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner is being moved to a Russian penal colony where she is due to serve the remainder of a nine-year drug smuggling sentence that was upheld in late October.
Griner “is now on her way to a penal colony,” her attorneys said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“We do not have any information on her exact current location or her final destination,” said attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov. “In accordance with the standard Russian procedure, the attorneys, as well as the US Embassy, should be notified upon her arrival at her destination. Notification is given via official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received.”
Russian penal colonies are known for their lack of hygiene and access to medical care, with inmates often required to perform manual labor.
She has repeatedly apologized for bringing a small amount of cannabis into the country, where she played basketball in the off-season.
In a statement, Griner’s representatives said they don’t know where she is – or what her condition is.
“Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said. “As we work through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG 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.”
US diplomatic efforts
Russia “unfortunately followed past practice” and did not notify the United States ahead of moving Griner, a senior State Department official said Wedneday. While US officials expected Griner would be transferred, they found out about the move from her legal team and press reports.
US diplomats have asked Russia for information on Griner but Russia hasn’t provided any answers, the official said.
“We are communicating very clearly to the Russians requesting information on her current location as well as her destination in addition to the message that we expect consistent with their obligations, including under under the Vienna Convention, to have a consistent consular access to Brittney Griner,” the official said.
Griner’s detention has raised concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The US government condemned the denial of her appeal last week, with a State Department spokesperson calling it “another repudiation of justice, which only compounds the original injustice of her detention.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called news of Griner’s transfer “another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.”
“As we work to secure Brittney Griner’s release, 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 welfare of U.S. citizen detainees in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for them all.”
Biden says he is ‘determined’ to bring Griner home
President Joe Biden said Wednesday he hopes Russia will talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange following Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“My intention is to get her home, and we have had a number of discussions so far. And I am hopeful that now that our election is over, there’s a willingness to negotiate more specifically with this,” Biden said at a news conference.
“I’m telling you, I am determined to get her home and get her home safely, along with others, I might add,” Biden said.
American officials “continue to work relentlessly to bring home” both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American held in Russia, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison after he was convicted of espionage – charges he denies.
“We will not relent until they are reunited with their loved ones,” Blinken said Wednesday.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Dakin Andone and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.