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WNBA star Brittney Griner moved to penal colony in Russian region of Mordovia

EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — WNBA star Brittney Griner has been taken to penal colony IK-2 in the Russian region of Mordovia, her lawyers said in a statement Thursday.

Griner is nearing her ninth month in detention after being taken into custody at a Moscow area airport in February for possessing vape cartridges with hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia. Griner pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison in August.

“We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment,” Griner’s legal team said in a statement to ABC News. “Considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”

The lawyer continued, “On behalf of Brittney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed care for her. During the last few days, we’ve received numerous messages of support.”

The U.S. government has classified Griner as “wrongfully detained” in Russia as it continues to negotiate for her freedom. U.S. officials have accused Russia of imposing an unusually harsh sentence on Griner and using her as a political prisoner as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine just a week after Griner was taken into custody.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the WNBA player’s wife, Cherelle Griner, in July to “reassure” her that they are working to secure Griner’s release.

The U.S. has publicly floated a proposal it made to the Russian government to negotiate the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2019, in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Griner filed an appeal to her nine-year prison sentence, but a Russian judge rejected the appeal on Oct. 25.

The 32-year-old Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury, was traveling to Russia to play for her club team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, during the WNBA’s offseason when she was taken into custody.

Last week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that while the U.S. did not know Griner’s exact location or final destination, diplomats were already advocating for her through official channels.

“As soon as we learned of her transfer, we requested formally from the Russian government, we requested more information about her transfer,” Price said, reacting to reports she had been transferred to a penal colony. “We are also engaging to do all that we can to ensure that her conditions are as safe, as healthy, as can be during this time.”

Price said Russia had not responded to the requests.

Biden had expressed optimism that negotiations with the Russian government might be more successful now that the midterm elections were over.

ABC News’ Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.

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