May 21, 2024

What Is A Russian Penal Colony And Why Is Brittney Griner Being Sent To One?

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Photo Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

The legal team for Brittney Griner has announced that she has been moved to a Russian penal colony, where prisoners are often put to work.

WNBA player Brittney Griner has officially been transferred to a Russian penal colony. On Thursday (November 17), Reuters reported that the 32-year-old was taken to the Russian region of Mordovia to Female Penal Colony IK-2 in Yavas, about 300 miles southeast of Moscow. The colony is also where American citizen Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of espionage charges.

When asked about Griner’s case, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said, “We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team. 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.”

On November 9, one day after U.S. embassy officials met with Griner weeks after her denied appeal, her legal team made the announcement. It’s unknown where the Phoenix Mercury player, who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison back in August, will be moved to.

A penal colony (also known as an exile colony) is a prison camp where prisoners are housed in barracks and often perform labor. As CNN noted in a report, most were built during the Soviet Union, with a vast majority Russia’s prisons being penal colonies.

Before she was taken to Mordovia, Griner’s legal team declared that because transfers normally take anywhere from weeks to months, it was unusual that a decision was made so quickly. Griner was denied appeal in October, which opened the possibility of being moved from her previous Moscow jail into harsher conditions of the penal colony, where prisoners often endure hard, monotonous labor, little access to medical care, unhygienic conditions and abuse.

“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 Wednesday morning. “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 calling for public support.

“Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being,” she 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.”

This story was updated on Thursday, November 17.



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