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Report: Brittney Griner transferred to Russian penal colony

Reuters noted WNBA star is in country’s Mordovia region

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Reuters on Thursday reported WNBA star Brittney Griner is now in a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

Brittney Griner’s lawyers earlier this month said authorities were transferring her to a penal colony. 

Her whereabouts had not been known for nearly two weeks. 

Reuters reported Brittney Griner is now at a female penal colony in Yavas, a city in Russia’s Mordovia region that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Moscow. Reuters noted Whelan is at a penal colony in the same area.

“We are aware of reports of her location, and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “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 embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”

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Lower house of Russian Parliament passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized proposal

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(Public domain photo)

A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma on Nov. 24.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper house of the Duma and Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” pedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ Pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Washington Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called ‘non-traditional’ LGBTQ+ lifestyles practiced by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life, make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ people in Russia — frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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Russia

Russia transferring Brittney Griner to penal colony

WNBA star’s lawyers say whereabouts are unknown

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner on Wednesday said Russian authorities are transferring her to a penal colony.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

A Russian court on Aug. 4 convicted Brittney Griner of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. An appellate court on Oct. 25 denied Brittney Griner’s appeal.

The Washington Post reported lawyers currently don’t know where Brittney Griner is.

American officials have publicly acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after his conviction for spying.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday acknowledged the U.S. has “made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens.”

“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” said Jean-Pierre. “The U.S. government is unwavering in its commitment to its work on behalf of Brittney and other Americans detained in Russia — including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.”

“Every minute that Brittney Griner must endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long,” she added. “As the administration continues to work tirelessly to secure her release, the president has directed the administration to prevail on her Russian captors to improve her treatment and the conditions she may be forced to endure in a penal colony.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his own statement echoed Jean-Pierre.

“Following a sham trial and the unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner, Moscow is transferring her from a prison in Moscow to a remote penal colony,” said Blinken. “It is another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.”

“As we work to secure Brittney Griner’s release, we expect Russian authorities to provide our embassy officials with regular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Brittney, as is their obligation. Ensuring the health and welfare of U.S. citizen detainees in Russia is a priority, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for them all,” he added. “Our hearts are with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, as well as their family, friends, and supporters, who all continue to suffer from Russia’s decision to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens. We continue to work relentlessly to bring them home. I am focused on doing so, as are so many others in the department. We will not relent until they are reunited with their loved ones.”

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U.S. officials meet with Brittney Griner

WNBA star convicted of drug trafficking, sentenced to nine years in penal colony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Speaking with reporters traveling with President Joe Biden aboard the presidential aircraft enroute to a campaign event Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said officials with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have met with imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner.

“We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Jean-Pierre said.

In a separate tweet, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “They saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances. We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American.”

“As we have said before, the U.S. government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good-faith negotiations by the Russians, [the] U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” she added.

The U.S. considers both Americans wrongfully detained.

Griner is serving a nine-year prison sentence after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage. 

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