Brittney Griner, the WNBA star sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for having cannabis oil in a vape cartridge, has reportedly been transferred to a notorious Russian penal colony.
In a move that her family and supporters have feared, the 32-year-old’s transfer began on Friday. Her whereabouts are currently unknown and she could remain so for at least two more weeks. Her lawyers said Wednesday that Russia usually sends prisoner conversion notices by mail and that process takes fifteen days.
Meanwhile, ESPN said Griner’s attorney and US officials were unaware she had been transferred until Tuesday.
Griner had an appeal against his nine-year sentence denied on October 25. She was sentenced on August 4 and arrested on February 17 at a Moscow airport for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia.
Conditions in a Russian penal colony are notoriously bleak, and high-profile prisoners have previously spoken of “slave conditions.”
Brittney Griner has reportedly been transferred to a Russian penal colony to serve her sentence on drug charges.
The whereabouts of Griner, 32, in Russia are currently unknown and could remain so for at least another two weeks.
Griner had an appeal against his nine-year sentence denied on October 25; she was arrested by Russian authorities in February.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian feminist protest group Pussy Riot, went on a hunger strike at Penal Colony No. 14 in 2013.
“I am convinced that it is my only way out of my current situation,” she wrote in The Guardian. ‘I will not remain silent, resigned to watching my fellow prisoners crumble under the strain of slavery-like conditions. I demand that the administration of the colony respect human rights… I demand that we be treated as human beings, not as slaves.’
Tolokonnikova also said that she had to work 17 hours a day in a sewing workshop and slept four hours at night.
Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, also served time in a penal colony some 50 miles from Moscow. He described it as “a friendly concentration camp” in an Instagram post.
‘The video cameras are everywhere, everyone is watched and in the event of the slightest violation they make a report. I think someone above read Orwell’s 1984 and said, “Yeah, great. Let’s do this. Education through dehumanization.”
Griner’s agent said in a statement broadcast on ESPN: “Our primary concern remains the health and well-being of BG.
“As we work through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is or how she is, we ask for the public’s support in continuing to write letters and express your love and care for her.”
Griner was last visited by US officials last Thursday, the day before her transfer began.
Russian penal colonies are notorious for the harsh conditions prisoners face
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian feminist protest group Pussy Riot, was taken to a penal colony and said people were treated like slaves.
Alexei Navalny, the most outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, also served time in a penal colony, saying it was ‘a friendly concentration camp’
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, pleaded guilty at her trial but said she had made an “honest mistake” and had no intention of breaking the law.
She admitted that she had the cans in her luggage, but testified that she had inadvertently packed them in a hurry and had no criminal intent.
His defense team submitted written statements that he had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.
His arrest in February came at a time of heightened tension between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the best players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she played during the American league offseason.
Griner was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony on drug possession and smuggling charges.
The nine-year sentence was close to the 10-year maximum, and Griner’s attorneys argued after conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them receiving probation.
Griner pleaded guilty at his trial in Russia but said he had made an ‘honest mistake’
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and was on his way to Russia to play in a basketball league during the US offseason.
Prior to her conviction, the US State Department declared that Griner had been ‘wrongly detained’, a charge Russia has strongly denied.
US officials have discussed a prisoner swap for Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 15-year sentence for an espionage conviction.
But Moscow seems annoyed at talk of a prisoner swap. At the end of October, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with journalists that “we always say that any contact about possible exchanges can only take place in silence and under strict control of any information.”