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Update: WNBA star Brittney Griner faces life in Russian penal colony

Brittney Griner
(© Keeton Gale – Shutterstock)

WNBA star Brittney Griner, 32, was transferred to IK-2, a Russian female penal colony in Yayas on Nov. 17.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Russian penal colonies are divided into four categories and range from lenient to strict. The country’s prisons are characterized as “among the worst in Europe” according to a 2017 Amnesty International report.

Griner, a center for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury since 2013, is at one of the 35 mid-level or “general regime” facilities for female inmates. IK-2’s dozen or so structures are surrounded by walls and barbed wire. Inmates are required to wear uniforms, and overpopulation violates Russia’s standard of 21 square feet of space per person.

Arrested Feb. 17 after Moscow airport security found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage for which Griner had an American doctor’s recommendation, she was sentenced August 4 to serve nine years in prison. She was also fined 1 million rubles, more than $16,000 in U.S. money.

An appeal in late October was denied.

Griner was traveling through Russia because she played for the UMMC Ekaterinburg in Yekaterinburg, the third largest city in Russia, during off-seasons from the Phoenix Mercury.

Griner came out as a lesbian in a February 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated. She and Cherelle Watson were married in June 2019. Her status as openly gay puts her at risk in Russia where LGBTQ+ are persecuted.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the U.S. is “actively engaged” in discussions with Russia for a prisoner swap of Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine detained in Russia since 2018 after a conviction of espionage charges.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.