White House says it’s taking Brittney Griner’s health at Russian penal colony ‘very seriously’

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby provides theGrio with an update on Griner who is currently serving a nine-year sentence for minor possession of cannabis.

The White House said it’s taking the physical health of wrongfully detained U.S. athlete Brittney Griner “very seriously” amid reports that the penal colony where she’s held has a reputation for being racist and homophobic.

Griner, jailed in Russia since February and is currently serving a nine-year sentence for minor possession of cannabis, was moved weeks ago to Mordovia, known for its “land of prisons.” Reports indicate that prisoners at the colony face harsh conditions, including forced labor of as much as 16 hours per day. Those who are imprisoned are subject to violent racist and homophobic attacks, according to The Moscow Times.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after an August hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP, File)
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after an August hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP, File)

When asked by theGrio during Monday’s White House press briefing if the Biden administration had any update on Griner’s physical and mental health given the known conditions at the penal colonies in Russia, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that while the administration could not “get into much detail” about her health for “privacy reasons,” the White House is “trying to make sure we have as much access and information about her condition as possible.

“I can just tell you that we’re taking that very seriously … knowing where she is and what penal colonies are designed to do,” said Kirby.

The coordinator for strategic communications at the NSC acknowledged that “her representatives,” more than likely her legal team, has more successfully obtained information about the 32-year-old’s well-being than the U.S. diplomats engaged in ongoing negotiations with Russian officials for the release of Griner and another American prisoner, Paul Whelan. “But we’re doing the best we can to stay on top of it as much as we can,” added Kirby.

John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council in the White House, speaks alongside White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a press briefing at the White House on Nov. 8, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council in the White House, speaks alongside White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during a press briefing at the White House on Nov. 8, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Concerns over Griner’s physical and emotional health have heightened since being relocated to penal colony IK-2 on Nov. 4. However, the WNBA basketball star’s representation is tight-lipped about sharing further updates about her condition. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was paid a visit by her legal team, who said in a previous statement that she is “doing as well as could be and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment.”

Her lawyers added, “considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”

Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas said in a statement that “despite the fact she is alone and now nearing her ninth month in detention separated from her loved ones, she is trying to stay strong.”

Colas similarly said, “at this time, we will not be sharing any further details.” She is encouraging fans and the public to continue writing letters to the star athlete at www.wearebg.org.

Brittney Griner #15 of Team United States poses for photographs with her gold medal during the Women’s Basketball medal ceremony on day 16 of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 8, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Brittney Griner #15 of Team United States poses for photographs with her gold medal during the Women’s Basketball medal ceremony on day 16 of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 8, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While U.S. and Russian officials are communicating and negotiating Griner and Whelan’s release, including a potential prisoner swap, the two countries have yet to reach an agreement. The two nations are currently engaged on the opposing side of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To date, the United States has provided billions of dollars to Ukraine in support of the sovereign nation’s unprovoked war against Russia, including military weaponry and equipment.

CIA Director William Burns, who is involved in discussions over Griner and Whelan’s potential release, earlier this month met with his Russian counterpart in Turkey. United States officials have continuously told reporters that they have made a substantial offer for their release but that Russia has yet to reply with a “serious response.”

When asked by theGrio if there were any plans to have another meeting between U.S. and Russian officials to negotiate Griner’s release, Kirby only said that “we continue to have ongoing conversations with Russian officials about Brittney’s release, as well as Mr. Whelan’s, in trying to get them home to their families where they belong.”

He added, “I can assure you that those conversations are ongoing, and we want them both home as fast as possible, and this administration is going to stay committed to that task.”

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