Brittney Griner is being transferred to a Russian penal colony -- a move her family has dreaded since Griner's August conviction on drug charges -- but her lawyers don't know where she is or where she's heading, her Russian legal team announced early Wednesday in Moscow.
The transfer began Friday, her lawyers said, a day after U.S. embassy officials visited her and far ahead of the schedule they had anticipated after Griner's appeal was denied Oct. 25. Typically, her attorneys had said, a transfer takes weeks or months. Griner's attorneys and U.S. officials were not aware she had been moved until Tuesday.
Griner's family might not know where she is for some time; according to her lawyers, "Notification is given via official mail and normally takes up to two weeks to be received."
Russian penal colonies are known for having far harsher conditions than the Moscow jail where Griner has been since she was detained in February.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday in a statement that the transfer 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," Blinken said. "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."
"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 early 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, saying Tuesday night, "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 said her team remains in "close contact" with the U.S. government and the Richardson Center, a private organization run by Bill Richardson that works to bring detained Americans home. Both the State Department and Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "are using all available resources to determine her whereabouts, ensure her safety and bring her home," Colas said.
"We are thankful for everyone's support, and hope that as we near nine months of detention, that BG and all wrongfully detained Americans will be shown mercy and returned home to their families for the holidays."
Griner's last contact with anyone from outside the jail was Thursday, when U.S. embassy officials were able to visit her. She last saw her attorneys the day before.
Her family declined to offer a statement late Tuesday in the United States.
Griner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges in July. U.S. officials declared in May that Griner was being wrongfully detained and have called her trial and appeal political theater.
U.S. officials have said they made a "serious" offer to trade for Griner's freedom in June but have not yet received what they consider to be a legitimate counteroffer, which the White House reiterated in its statement Wednesday despite what it called additional attempts.
"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 read. "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."
Officials have said they hoped Russia would be more inclined to negotiate in good faith once the Tuesday midterm elections were over, knowing that Vladimir Putin's government would not want to give President Joe Biden a potential political victory.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow-area airport Feb. 17 while trying to enter Russia to join her club team in Ekaterinburg.
In a statement, her lawyers said, "Neither Brittney's family, including her wife Cherelle or her Russian legal team will have any further statements or press availability at this time."