Family and loved ones of WNBA star Brittney Griner have grown worried about the whereabouts of the basketball player after it announced that she has been transferred to a penal colony over seven hours away from Russia’s capital, Moscow. Her exact location is unknown, although it has been revealed that the penal colony is in Yavas, in Russia’s western region.
“First, on behalf of Brittney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed care for her,” her attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a statement. “We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia.”
The statement continued: “We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment. Considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department confirmed to the media that they were in touch with her legal team. Her lawyers confirmed during talks that she had been transferred to a penal colony.
“However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location,” a spokesperson said.
The Olympic gold medalist was transferred to a Russian penal colony after losing an appeal to be released and sent back to the United States, her attorneys announced Wednesday.
She was transferred to the maximum-security prison one day after American diplomats visited her. Neither U.S. officials nor her lawyers were aware of her transfer until earlier this year. Officials further indicate that her family may not know where exactly she will be held for at least two weeks.
“Notification is given via official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received,” her lawyers said.
Russian penal colonies are known for their severe and brutal conditions – conditions that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said were “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. “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.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed Blinken’s sentiments, stating that the Administration is working tirelessly to bring Griner back home.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “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.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also released a statement, advocating that the public should remain to pour support for the detained basketball player. “Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being. 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.”
Colas said that she is working closely with the U.S. government and the Richardson Center, an organization that works to bring Americans detained abroad back home. Bill Richardson, the organization’s lead and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is working with Colas “is using all available resources to determine her whereabouts, ensure her safety and bring her home,” Colas said. “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.”
Griner pleaded guilty to smuggling hashish oil into Russia in July and has been detained in a Russian jail since February.
“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” read a statement from U.S. officials. “The U.S. Government is unwavering in its commitment to its work on behalf of Brittney and other Americans detained in Russia — including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.”
“Neither Brittney’s family, including her wife Cherelle or her Russian legal team will have any further statements or press availability at this time,” her attorneys said.