WNBA star Brittney Griner has been taken to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia, where she will begin serving her nine-year prison sentence following her appeal being denied, a source told Reuters on Thursday (November 17).
Griner was first detained in Russia on February 17, when authorities found cannabis oil in her bag at a Moscow airport. She plead guilty to drug charges after admitting she "inadvertently" brought cannabis into the country and was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison.
According to Reuters, Griner was moved from a detention center near Moscow on November 4 to be transferred to an undisclosed prison location. For weeks, her exact whereabouts have remained unknown, but the source said she was taken to Female Penal Colony IK-2 in Yavas, which is about 300 miles southeast of Moscow.
The penal colony is in Mordovia, the same region where jailed American Paul Whelan, who has also been classified by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained," is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of espionage charges.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said of the new development: "We are aware of reports of her location and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner's legal team.
"However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest," the spokesperson continued. "The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location."
According to reports, the U.S. has put forth a "substantial" proposal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan, but no deal has been reached with Russia amid tensions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Former prisoners and human rights groups have described penal colony conditions as harsh and unhygienic — Inmates are typically forced to work long hours on tedious manual tasks such as sewing.