Watch CBS News

U.S. slams Russia for moving WNBA star Brittney Griner "to a remote penal colony"

Russia moves Brittney Griner to penal colony
Russia moves Brittney Griner to penal colony 01:31

Russia is moving detained U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner to a penal colony, her lawyers said Wednesday, drawing a sharp rebuke from the White House. Griner, convicted for possession of a small quantity of cannabis oil and given a nine-year prison sentence, was transferred out of a detention center on November 4, her Russian legal team said.

She "is now on her way to a penal colony," lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement. They said Russia generally sends notifications of prisoner transfers by mail, taking up to two weeks.

"We do not have any information on her exact current location or her final destination," they said.

Griner's case has drawn outrage in the United States, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaching out to Russia to propose a deal to free her despite soaring tension over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia Griner
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen being escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

A State Department official said Wednesday that Russia "unfortunately followed past practice in that they did not notify us ahead of time" about moving Griner.

"We've been in touch with her attorneys this morning — they confirm for us that she has in fact been moved," the State Department official said, adding that neither the department nor Griner's lawyers know what the exact timeline of the WNBA's star's transfer will look like.

The State Department official said that based on past experiences, their understanding is that when American detainees are moved to Russian prison camps, "they go to basically a central clearing house location before they arrive at their final destination that can take days, or it can take a couple weeks."

President Biden insisted at a press conference on Wednesday that his "intention" is to bring Griner home via a prisoner swap, and that the White House has had "discussions" with Russia. He refused to elaborate on what alternative ways forward would be. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that the United States had put forward a "substantial offer" to Russia to resolve her case.

"Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long," Jean-Pierre said in a statement. "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."

Blinken issued a statement on Wednesday slamming Russia's decision to transfer Griner "to a remote penal colony" as "another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention."

"We expect Russian authorities to provide our Embassy officials with regular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Brittney, as is their obligation," said Blinken, adding that the Biden administration would "continue to press for fair and transparent treatment" for all Americans held in Russia.  

Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and WNBA champion, had been in Russia to play for the professional Yekaterinburg team during her off-season from the Phoenix Mercury WNBA side.

She said the cannabis in the vape cartridges was prescribed to her in the U.S. to treat pain from sports injuries, but Russia doesn't allow any marijuana use, including medicinal.

Reports have suggested that Griner and another American jailed in Russia, Paul Whelan — a retired U.S. Marine arrested in December 2018 and accused of spying — could be traded for Viktor Bout, a famed Russian arms trafficker serving 25 years in prison on a 2012 conviction. 

Camilla Schick contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.