Women's basketball star Brittney Griner is being transferred to an undisclosed prison in Russia after being detained for more than eight months.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained and imprisoned in Moscow earlier this year for having less than a gram of cannabis oil. She is now being transferred to a penal colony, where prisoners are placed in barracks and are forced to perform daily hard labor.
Griner was initially detained in February.
In July, she went to trial, almost immediately pleading guilty to drug smuggling charges as the Biden Administration increased its efforts to bring the Phoenix Mercury star home, NPR reported at the time.
The Administration proposed a swap: Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, who is serving 16 years in prison on an espionage charge, for Viktor Bout, a Russian national currently serving 25 years in a US penitentiary for supplying arms to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and rebels in Rwanda.
“My intention is to get home, and we have had a number of discussions so far,” said President Biden at a press conference on November 9. “I am hopeful that now that our election is over, there’s a willingness to negotiate more specifically with this.”
Russia rejected the proposal
On August 4, the 32-year-old Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison following a week-long trial. The maximum sentence that Griner had faced was 10 years.
During sentencing, Judge Anna Sotnikova reportedly believed that Griner intentionally broke the law and tacked on a 1 million rubles (roughly $16,700) fine.
Griner has maintained that she was unaware of breaking the law.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said in court. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
In October, Griner attempted to appeal her sentence but was denied.
The American government spoke out against the denial of her appeal. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called it “another repudiation of justice, which only compounds the original injustice of her detention.”
It was speculated that US officials expected Griner would be transferred but they found out about the move from her legal team and press reports as Russia did not notify the US ahead of the move.
Russia is the leading incarceration number in Europe with nearly half a million people currently in prison. The conditions of the penal colony have been characterized as crowded barracks, limited access to health care, intense labor and abuse from inmates and staff.
Russian penal colonies are descendent of the infamous Gulags that took over 1.6 million lives under dictator Joseph Stalin.
These prisons can be characterized by their long list of human rights abuses, from small food portions with long and hard workdays to physical and sexual violence.
These prisons are also located far from major cities making it difficult for loved ones to visit, making the incarceration experience even more isolating. Reports say it is expensive to travel across the country to visit, and even though most colonies are accessible by bus or car, some require you to walk the last mile through a restricted area.
“Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, told CNN. “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.”