The legal team for American basketball star Brittney Griner announced she has been sent to a penal colony in Russia to serve her sentence for drug possession. A penal colony is a common type of Russian prison where detainees work for minimal pay.
According to Griner’s lawyers, she left a detention center for the penal colony last week. They did not know exactly where she was or where she would end up — but that they expected to be notified when she reached her final destination. Such notification could take days.
Wednesday’s news drew strong dissent from both the White House and the State Department. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Secretary of State Antony Blinken released statements Wednesday.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long,” Jean-Pierre said in her statement. “The U.S. Government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens. 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.”
The offer Jean-Pierre is referring to is likely the reported prisoner swap that would see Russia release Griner and Paul Whelan — an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage — in exchange for Viktor Bout. The Russian arms dealer is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “merchant of death.”
“Our hearts are with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, as well as their family, friends, and supporters, who all continue to suffer from Russia’s decision to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens. We continue to work relentlessly to bring them home,” Blinken said in his statement. “I am focused on doing so, as are so many others in the Department. We will not relent until they are reunited with their loved ones.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.