Moscow -- November 9, 2022: On Wednesday, according to her legal team, American basketball player Brittney Griner was sent a Russian penal colony for drug possession.
Her nine-year sentence was upheld by a Russian court last month. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time all-star center for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury was found guilty on August 4 after police claimed they discovered marijuana oil-infused vape cartridges in her luggage at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.
Days before Russia moved soldiers into Ukraine, tensions between Moscow and Washington were at an all-time high. Her detention coincided with this period of increased tension, and the politically charged case may result in a risky prisoner swap between the two countries.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “As we have said before, the U.S. Government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens.”
According to Griner's legal team, she left a detention facility outside of Moscow on November 4 for a penal colony, a prevalent style of prison in Russia where inmates are forced to work for little pay. Given that she lost her appeal, the action was anticipated.
Such transfers might take days or even weeks, during which time the prisoner's loved ones and attorneys are typically cut off from communication. Even if she arrives, getting to Griner might be challenging because so many prisons in Russia are located in outlying regions.
Her attorneys claimed on Wednesday that they were unsure of her particular location and final destination but anticipated learning about it once she arrived.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russian authorities grant the embassy regular access to Griner as they are required to do in a statement that emphasized the efforts being made to obtain Griner's release.
The 32-year-old professional athlete has acknowledged having the canisters in her luggage after being stopped while traveling back to play for a Russian team during the WNBA summer. She claimed, however, that she had packed them accidentally while rushing and had no malicious purpose. Her defense team provided formal confirmation that she had received a cannabis prescription for pain relief.
According to the Associated Press and other news agencies, Washington has proposed exchanging Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage. Russian arms dealer Bout, formerly known as the "merchant of death," is currently serving a 25-year term in the United States.
WNCTIMES by Marjorie Farrington