In the final, sad step of WNBA champion Brittney Griner’s legal case, the basketball star has been transferred to a Russian penal colony. This is the moment that Griner’s family, friends and supporters have dreaded since her appeal of a nine-year sentence for drug smuggling and possession was denied.
According to ESPN, the transfer is happening much sooner than the Phoenix Mercury center’s lawyers anticipated, with the process beginning on Friday, just after she met with U.S. Embassy officials. From the moment she was detained in a Moscow airport on Feb. 17, Brittney has been used as a political pawn, so the quick timing of this transfer—to seemingly remove her story from the news—is not an accident. The most troubling aspect of all of this is that Griner’s lawyers say they currently “don’t know where she is or where she’s heading.” The eight-time WNBA All-Star’s family has no idea what’s happening to her and Griner’s lawyers explained it could be a while before they get word on their loved one, saying, “Notification is given via official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received.”
For Black families, this is an all too familiar story, as we hear about this happening all the time in America’s prison industrial complex. Someone is arrested and convicted on trumped-up charges, they’re sentenced to an overwhelming prison term, then simply disappears into the system. Now, take that unfortunate scenario and put it in a hostile foreign country where human rights don’t mean much, add in the strained global politics of war, and that’s what Brittney Griner is going through.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement on the Biden Administration’s reaction to the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s secretive prison transfer and its continued efforts to negotiate a possible prisoner exchange.
“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,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “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.”
While Brittney’s family has yet to comment on the prison transfer, on Tuesday, her agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas released a statement saying, “Our primary concern continues to be BG’s health and well-being. 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.”
Colas also added that her team is in “close contact” with the U.S. government and former U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson’s private center that works around the world to bring American prisoners and hostages home. Colas said the Richardson Center and U.S. State Department “are using all available resources to determine her whereabouts, ensure her safety and bring her home.”
With Russia flat-out saying the basketball champion is not a priority for the country and no end in sight for its invasion of Ukraine, it looks like Brittney Griner is going to be trapped in a Russian prison indefinitely. It’s crucial that we don’t let her name fade from the headlines. This situation has hit a point where all we can do for Brittney and her family now, is let them know she will not be forgotten and we’re still here telling her story.