WNBA star Brittney Griner will be transferred to a Russian penal colony — the modern evolution of the gulag — soon.
Brittney Griner’s lawyers say that the convicted WNBA star is being transferred to a Russian penal colony, despite initial reports suggesting it could take many more weeks for her transfer to happen.
In a statement to CNN, her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said that they are unaware of Griner’s exact location, which is customary for such a transfer in the Russian prison system. Once Griner arrives at the penal colony where she is to serve her nine-year sentence, her attorneys and the United States government will be notified by official mail of her location, which may take weeks.
An article from the New York Times (subscription may be required) details that Russian penal colonies are the modern-day version of gulags. Though the conditions are far better than gulags, the Times reports they are still overcrowded and in poor conditions, with previous survivors suggesting basic amenities like hot water, basic medication, and proper clothes are often unavailable.
CNN reports that most inmates are required to perform manual labor while imprisoned, as well.
According to ESPN, the conditions where Griner was in Moscow jail while waiting for her trial and thereafter are far better than typical penal colonies in Russia.
Here’s what Griner’s agent had to say:
“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.”
Why Brittney Griner is in Russian prison
In February, Brittney Griner — who was playing overseas during the WNBA offseason — was arrested at an airport when security found cartridges with small amounts of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia.
In a lengthy judicial proceeding, Griner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges but qualified her admission with a statement suggesting it was an honest mistake she had made. After her conviction, she appealed, and that appeal was denied. The only recourse to bring Griner home now is for the United States government to intervene.
Shortly after her arrest in February, the Russian-Ukrainian political conflict took off, which many viewed as an opportunity for Russia to use Griner as a political pawn. In the forthcoming months, it was suggested that Russia was trying to leverage Griner — as well as other imprisoned Americans — to secure Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who has earned the infamous nickname, “The Merchant of Death.”
President Joe Biden released a statement in August saying, “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Who is Paul Whelan?
Paul Whelan is another American — also a citizen of Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom according to CNN — who is imprisoned on espionage charges, and has been imprisoned for nearly four years. In April, another American, Trevor Reed, was freed and Whelan was not. At the time, Griner’s court proceedings had not yet concluded.
Marc Fogel is another American who has been sentenced to 14 years for traveling with medical marijuana — Russian laws make no distinction between recreational and medical marijuana — that he uses to treat spinal pain. Fogel has not been mentioned by the United States government as a priority to get released.