Who is Brittney Griner? Jailed US basketball star being moved to Russian penal colony

Who is Brittney Griner? Jailed US basketball star being moved to Russian penal colony

Jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner is being moved from a Russian prison to a penal colony.

Penal colonies are the descendants of gulags, or forced labour camps, which were prevalent throughout the Soviet era. Prisoners in penal colonies are housed in barracks and have to perform labour. They are also a source of income, with some containing factories that produce food and clothing.

Ms Griner’s exact destination is not known.

The 32-year-old was arrested earlier this year and was convicted of smuggling and possessing cannabis oil at an airport near Moscow.

It was reported that the US offered Russia a prisoner swap in a bid to save Ms Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, who was convicted to 16 years in prison over spying allegations in 2020. Mr Whelan denies espionage and has said he was set up in a sting operation.

Reports have suggested US officials offered to swap Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, as part of a deal.

Here’s everything you need to know about the WNBA star.

Who is Brittney Griner and why is she being held in Russia?

Brittney Yevette Griner, 32, is a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

She has been married to Cherelle Griner since 2019. Her parents are Raymond and Sandra Griner, and she has three siblings – Shkera, Decarlo and Pier.

The three-time league champion was allegedly found with hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia, in her bag.

Less than a gram of the oil, which was intended for being used in a vape, was said to have been found.

US authorities claimed Ms Griner was detained wrongfully and have called for the basketball player to be released.

She was detained five months ago, in February, after Russian federal customs services alleged that sniffer dogs flagged her bag at the airport.

The hashish oil that Ms Griner is reported to have had on her is concentrated marijuana that has a high level of the psychoactive chemical THC.

A criminal case was then opened, with the charge leading to up to 10 years in a Russian prison.

Ms Griner continues to appeal to US President Joe Biden, but US and Russia relations are at a low point amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The star’s lawyers appealed against the sentence, but a Russian court upheld her nine-year prison conviction in October.

What did Brittney Griner’s letter to Joe Biden say?

In her letter to the president in July, Ms Griner wrote: “As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.

“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you.

“I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

Mr Biden replied to Ms Griner’s letter and said he was “exhausting all efforts” to bring her back to the UK.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” he said in a statement.