Brittney Griner's Updated Living Conditions In Russian Prison Spark Concern

On February 17, it was reported that Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner was being held in Russia, per People. Griner was taken into custody after customs allegedly uncovered vape cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in Russia, in her carry-on bag during a search at the Sheremetyevo International Airport. At that time, the Russian Federal Customs Service released a statement on her arrest.

A month later, it was stated that Griner would have to be in detainment for at least two more months as the investigation continued. "The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of detention of U.S. citizen Griner until May 19," the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region said in a statement obtained by Newsweek.

The Mercury player's detainment was extended by one month in May, per Associated Press. It was suspected that the extension meant they were close to a trial. And in June, it was reported to ABC News that the pre-trial detention was extended again through July 2. While Griner was in detainment, supporters spoke out on social media to spread awareness and to gather support to bring the WNBA star back to the United States.

People make efforts to bring awareness to Brittney Griner's situation

When it was reported that Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, her wife and the WNBA took to social media to express their thoughts. "We love you babe!" Cherelle Griner, the basketball player's wife, said in her Instagram caption on March 7. She described how the detainment has impacted her life. "I'm hurting, we're hurting," she added. "We await the day to love on you as a family."

The WNBA and the NBA released a joint statement to ESPN in regard to the situation. They said that they aren't able to comment on the legal matters, but Griner's "mental and physical health" is their "primary concern." The media outlet also mentioned that the concern comes with the fact that warnings were issued for entering Russia due to COVID-19 restrictions and the invasion of Ukraine.

The Women's National Basketball Players Association also took action and made a petition in an effort to bring Griner home safely. In the description, the WNBPA explained how many WNBA players like to go abroad to play during the offseason for two reasons — one, because they love playing the sport, and two, because it gives them a chance to earn more money. Nearly 400,000 people have signed the petition. While efforts were being made to get Griner out of Russia, the basketball player herself was fighting as well.

Brittney Griner fights for her own life

On July 4, Brittney Griner wrote a letter to United States President Joe Biden. "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," Griner wrote, per the Los Angeles Times. She then urged the president to help her return home safely, stating that she "believes in him" to do so.

The basketball player went on to testify in a Russian court. Griner's lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told CNN that the WNBA star "explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws." The lawyer also mentioned that Griner leaned into the fact that she has always enjoyed playing basketball in Russia during the offseason, and she would never do anything to intentionally break the law. Meanwhile, the U.S. government issued an offer for a prison exchange.

After a month of court appearances and testifying, it was reported that Griner was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. According to the New York Times, this is nearly the maximum sentence for this offense, which is 10 years. It was also reported that the basketball player was fined 1 million rubles, which is about $16,600 in the United States. And now, it seems the situation may get even worse for the basketball star.

People are concerned for Brittney Griner as she moves to a penal colony

On November 9, it was reported that Brittney Griner was being moved to a Russian penal colony. The basketball player's lawyers told the Washington Post that they don't know her whereabouts. "In accordance with the standard Russian procedure the attorneys, as well as the U.S. Embassy, should be notified upon her arrival at her destination," they said, adding that the transfer can take up to two weeks. Penal colonies are known for their harsh living conditions, per CNN, and authorities are deeply concerned for Griner's safety.

"Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long," White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tweeted when the news about the penal colony transfer broke out. She mentioned that President Biden and his administration will make sure that the living conditions improve to ensure the safety of Griner's health.

Fans have also spoken out about the matter. "What they're doing to Britney Griner is so beyond cruel," one person tweeted. Another fan tweeted about how it's unfair that the basketball player has played in Russia numerous times and they can still do this to her. "Thinking endlessly about Brittney Griner," another person tweeted. "Two weeks of unknown whereabouts en route to a Russian penal colony possible in Siberia. I just can't."