Wherever Brittney Griner was on Wednesday, one thing was clear: the American basketball star imprisoned by Russia was not returning home, despite a concerted American campaign to win her freedom.
Ms Griner was instead transferred from a prison outside Moscow and pushed into Russia’s vast and opaque penal colony system, lawyers said.
Beyond that, little was known.
Ms Griner’s legal team said in a statement that her intended destination was unknown and that they expected to be formally notified, along with the US Embassy, once she arrived. The process can take up to two weeks.
It has been more than eight months since the WNBA star was seized after flying into an airport near Moscow with a small amount of hash oil in his luggage. She has repeatedly apologized for what she says was an involuntary act and pleaded guilty to the charges.
Late last month, a Russian court upheld the nine-year prison sentence imposed on Ms Griner, 32, setting the stage for her transfer to a penal colony, even as US and Russian authorities discussed the possibility of an exchange of prisoners. These negotiations came at a low point in relations between the two countries.
What you need to know about the Brittney Griner affair
The sentence given to Ms. Griner, an All-Star center with the Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was harsher than those usually imposed for the drug offense, experts say, and critics say Moscow uses as pawn policy. His arrest came just days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
US officials have repeatedly denounced Ms Griner’s treatment, and they did so again on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in a statement, called Ms Griner’s transfer to a penal colony “another injustice on top of her ongoing unjust and abusive detention.” And President Biden has ordered his administration to “prevail over her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in his own statement.
Ms Jean-Pierre said the US was ‘unwavering in its commitment to its work on behalf of Brittney and other Americans detained in Russia’, including Paul Whelan, a former Marine who in 2020 was sentenced to 16 years in a high security area. Russian prison for espionage.
Russian and American officials have signaled that Ms Griner’s fate could be decided in high-level negotiations over a possible exchange of Russian detainees held in the United States. But those talks could not begin in earnest until the legal process was completed, Russian officials said.
That is now the case, but for now, Mrs Griner’s fate is likely to be shrouded in mystery.
President Biden told a press conference on Wednesday that he hoped the negotiations could enter a new phase now that the midterm elections were over. “I guess, I hope that now that the elections are over, Mr Putin can talk with us and will be ready to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange,” he said, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin from Russia.
Extended transfers to a penal colony are a long-standing practice in Russia, as they were in the Soviet Union before it. The process is known as staging.
The fate of Brittney Griner in Russia
The American basketball star endured months in a Russian prison for smuggling hash oil into the country.
Prisoners are generally not allowed to communicate with the outside world for a week or two while they are moved, and lawyers and family members are unsure where they are going, learning in which penal colony the sentence will be served. once a prisoner arrives.
“As we go through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where BG is or how she is doing,” Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Ms Griner’s agent, said in a statement, “we ask for the public’s support to continue. to write letters and express their love and care for her.
The WNBA’s players’ union, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, responded to the news from the penal colony by stating, “We stand with Brittney Griner and will continue to call on all Americans and the global sports community to even with even more vigilance. We are crushed that this frightening and seemingly endless nightmare continues. The lack of clarity and transparency in the process compounds the pain.
Penal colonies are notorious for the abusive treatment of inmates, overcrowding and harsh conditions. Political prisoners like Aleksei A. Navalny and members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have already been sent to them to serve sentences.
At any one time, there are usually about 350 foreigners from what Russians call “the far abroad”, that is, countries that were not part of the Soviet Union, serving sentences in penal colonies, prison officials said. Usually about a third are imprisoned for drug trafficking, they said.
When asked if foreigners were treated differently, a senior Russian Federal Penitentiary Service official said a few years ago that was not the case. The only difference is that they have the right to receive visits from consular officials from their home country, the official, Sergey Esipov, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
“There are no special conditions,” he said. “All foreigners serve their sentence on the grounds and in the manner prescribed by Russian law.”
The report was provided by Neil MacFarquhar, Ivan Nechepurenko, Ruth Maclean and Andrew E. Kramer.
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