UPDATE: Thursday, Nov 10, 2022 · 1:53:41 AM +00:00
President Joe Biden said during a news conference to discuss midterm election results on Wednesday that he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin will be willing to “talk more seriously” about a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner ”now that the election is over.”
“That is my intention,” Biden said. “My intention is to get her home, and we’ve had a number of discussions so far.”
When a Russian appeals court rejected the appeal of WNBA star Brittney Griner last month keeping her confined to a detention center near Moscow, it was widely reported that she would end up in a Russian penal colony, which New York Times writer Ruth Maclean described as “the descendants of gulags, the notorious Stalin-era labor camps where millions of Russians lost their lives.”
“Some prisoners are tortured, or beaten by fellow inmates,” Maclean wrote. “Some have to work 16-hour days. A few are forced to watch Russian propaganda on repeat.”
But for Griner, it’s unclear what exactly lies in store following the rejected appeal of her nine-year sentence on Russian drug smuggling and cannabis possession charges. Her legal team said in a statement the Times obtained that Griner is being transferred to a penal colony and her attorneys don’t know her location. They have only the promise that they will be notified of Griner’s final destination via official mail in a process that may take up to two weeks.
In the meantime, officials with the administration of President Joe Biden are continuing work to get Griner home.
The United States has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer held in a penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted in Moscow of espionage in a prisoner swap. But a senior official with the Biden administration told CNN that the administration has yet to get “a serious counteroffer” from Russia.
Griner’s attorneys had hoped an appeal would at least lead to a reduced sentence. Aleksandr Boikov, one of those attorneys, told the Times the Khimki Court that sentenced Griner initially overlooked “serious procedural violations during detention, extraction of physical evidence, arrest and investigation” to impose an “unprecedentedly harsh” sentence. Boikov said the verdict did “not correspond to the current legal practice of Russian courts.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on Wednesday:
Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long. 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. 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. 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 U.S. Government is unwavering in its commitment to its work on behalf of Brittney and other Americans detained in Russia – including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a similar statement:
Following a sham trial and the unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner, Moscow is transferring her from a prison in Moscow to a remote penal colony. It is another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.
As we work to secure Brittney Griner’s release, 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. Ensuring the health and welfare of U.S. citizen detainees in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for them all.
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. 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.
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, has asked the public in a statement the Times obtained to continue writing letters of support. “As we work through this very difficult phase of not knowing exactly where B.G. 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,” the agent said.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, told a crowd on Nov. 1 at Glamour magazine’s 2022 Women of the Year ceremony that words can’t capture the “excruciating pain that stems from having a loved one held hostage.”
“I woke up to a text that changed my entire life,” Cherelle said. “I’ve spent the last eight months riding waves of grief and to be honest, just total disbelief. I can’t believe that I’m standing in front of you guys today living without my favorite person, my greatest love, biggest support, and just sanctuary.”
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