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Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since February, is being moved to a Russian penal colony — a type of prison facility known for its brutal living conditions — her legal team said Wednesday.
The 32-year-old was arrested at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow on Feb. 17 and accused of entering Russia with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. She pleaded guilty to carrying the cartridges, saying it was an “honest mistake.” She was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison in August, and a judge rejected her appeal late last month.
“We do not have any information on her exact current location or her final destination,” her attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.
“In accordance with the standard Russian procedure the attorneys, as well as the U.S. Embassy, should be notified upon her arrival at her destination,” a process they said normally takes up to two weeks.
Although no further information about the Griner’s new facility has been publicly released, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a tweet Wednesday, “We strongly protest the movement of Brittney Griner to a remote penal colony and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions.”
Russia has one of the highest rates of incarceration in Europe, with almost 520,000 inmates held in prisons throughout the country, according to the Associated Press. Most of its facilities are known as penal colonies because inmates are required to carry out labor during their sentences.
The camps share many similarities with the gulags or forced-labor camps used during the Soviet Union, and media investigations have highlighted alleged abuses against prisoners in penal colonies.
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was jailed after recovering from a poisoning attack, described the notorious Penal Colony No. 2, where he was initially sent, as “our friendly concentration camp.” He accused guards of denying him proper medical care or the chance to sleep and described dehumanizing surveillance.
The White House condemned the decision to move Griner into a penal colony, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that “every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long.”
“As the Administration continues to work tirelessly to secure her release, the President has directed the Administration to prevail on her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony,” she said in a statement.
Jean-Pierre added that the U.S. government had made “a significant offer to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens,” as Washington seeks to negotiate a diplomatic solution to free Griner and Paul Whelan, an American former security consultant serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.
But Russia blamed Washington on Tuesday for the lack of progress, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova saying, “We have not seen any desire from the United States to resolve the specific problems of people.”
In a Wednesday statement, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, spoke of concerns over the basketball player’s health and well-being during “this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is or how she is doing.”
“We are thankful for everyone’s support, and hope that as we near nine months of detention, that BG and all wrongfully detained Americans will be shown mercy and returned home to their families for the holidays,” Colas added.
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