WNBA star Brittney Griner has been moved to a Russian forced labor camp, months after the basketball player was arrested in Russia for allegedly possessing cannabis oil.
Griner was visiting Russia to compete in the WBNA offseason in February when Russian authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage. She was promptly arrested for possessing the vape cartridges and was later sentenced to nine years in prison.
On Griner’s 32nd birthday last month, her representatives released a statement thanking her supporters.
“Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me,” Griner said from prison, according to the statement.
The development is the latest update after Griner’s appeal of her 9-year sentence was denied by a Russian court last month. The White House released a statement early Wednesday morning condemning the move.
“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 the 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,” the statement continued.
The press secretary also noted that the Biden administration has previously made offers to negotiate Griner’s release.
“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,” Jean-Pierre said. “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 statement also argued that the nation is committed to the release of Griner as well as American citizen Paul Whelan, who is also still held in Russia.
“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,” Jean-Pierre concluded.
The latest update follows Griner’s failed appeal hearing in a Moscow regional court last month that upheld her lengthy sentence.
The Phoenix Mercury center and her legal team had hoped for an acquittal or reduction in the sentence that they believed were too severe and politically motivated.
“No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law,” Alexander Boykov, one of Griner’s lawyers, said according to Reuters.
He added, “if the court wants to punish her, [it should] give her a new, ‘fair’ verdict and mitigate the punishment. The severity and cruelty of the sentence applied to Griner shocks people around the world.”
Griner’s arrest occurred four days before Russia invaded Ukraine. The 6-foot, 9-inch center was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment in August, just shy of the 10-year maximum sentence.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said ahead of her verdict. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
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