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Brittney Griner is being moved to a Russian penal colony


U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner is on her way to a remote Russian penal colony. That's according to her lawyers, who don't know exactly where she's being taken. President Biden says he is determined to get her home and that he hopes Russia will be ready to negotiate a prisoner swap. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Layers of injustice - that's how State Department spokesperson Ned Price describes Brittney Griner's legal saga in Russia.

NED PRICE: Brittney Griner has endured a sham trial, unjust sentencing and now the transfer from a prison to a remote penal colony. It's just another injustice layered on top of her ongoing, unjust and wrongful detention.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials don't know where the Russians are taking Griner, nor do her lawyers. It could be a couple of weeks before Russia notifies the U.S. about where she's due to serve her nine-year prison term.

PRICE: We expect Russian authorities to provide our embassy with regular, consistent access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia. That, of course, includes Brittney Griner. And they're obligated to do so.

KELEMEN: Griner was arrested in February after what she admits was a mistake - packing vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her suitcase as she traveled to Russia, where she plays during the WNBA's offseason. A Russian who spent two years in a penal colony says the facilities are a relic from the Stalin era.

MARIA ALYOKHINA: This is Soviet Union system built for Soviet Union prisoners.

KELEMEN: Maria Alyokhina, who's with the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, says prisoners are forced to sew uniforms for the Russian police and live in crowded barracks.

ALYOKHINA: For 100 women, there are, like, three toilets and no hot water, and there is no shower or bath.

KELEMEN: She calls Griner a hostage and says supporters of the basketball star should keep writing to her and talking about the case. The U.S. and Russia blame each other for the lack of progress in talks about a prisoner swap.


MARIA ZAKAROVA: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: "We have not seen any desire from the U.S. to resolve the specific problems of people," says Maria Zakarova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on Russian television. But the Biden administration says Russia has not engaged in good faith on its proposal, which would reportedly see a jailed Russian arms dealer released in exchange for Griner and another American, Paul Whelan.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.