Russian courtroom rejects Griner’s attraction and sends WNBA star to penal colony for a minimum of eight years
Brittney Griner, a U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player who was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, stands in an accused’s cage before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, August 4, 2022 .
Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A Russian court on Tuesday upheld WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence, a decision that will send the U.S. athlete to a penal colony.
The court near Moscow upheld the original verdict, which the prosecutor called “fair.”
Griner remains in prison for about eight years, although a further appeal to Russia’s Court of Cassation, the highest appeals court, is possible. It is not clear if her lawyers will file another appeal.
“We think we should use all available legal tools, but that’s her decision,” Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s attorney, told reporters outside the court. Blagovolina added that the two-time Olympic gold medalist was disappointed to hear the three-person jury’s decision.
“She had some hope, but that’s gone today,” said Blagovolina.
Griner, who plays professional basketball during the WNBA off-season in Russia, was arrested in February after Russian authorities found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Her attorneys said Griner only uses cannabis for medicinal purposes and inadvertently packed the canisters of cannabis in her suitcase because the professional athlete was in a hurry.
Under Russian law, the charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In August, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. She was also ordered to pay 1 million rubles, approximately $16,301.
Griner’s lawyers added that they will see the 32-year-old athlete, who appeared in court via video conference, next week. Blagovolina said Griner last spoke to her family on the phone a week ago.
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in a Russian penal colony in August for drug smuggling, is seen on a screen before a court hearing of an appeal against her sentence via a video link from a pre-trial detention center in Moscow’s district court October 25 2022.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images
The White House called for Griner’s immediate release after Tuesday’s “mock trial.”
“The President has shown he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make difficult decisions to bring Americans home, as his administration has done successfully in countries around the world,” wrote National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in a statement.
Sullivan added that the Biden administration remains in regular contact with the families of wrongfully detained US citizens.
“I’m afraid I might be here forever”
U.S. WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands in an accused’s cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court outside Moscow July 26, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images
The court’s guilty verdict came as the Biden administration struggled to secure her release.
A week before the ruling, the Biden administration confirmed that it had made an offer to the Russian government for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking for his direct assistance with her case.
“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any achievements. I’m scared that I might be here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in a July 5 letter.
“I realize you’re involved with so much, but please don’t forget about me and… other American prisoners. Please do whatever you can to get us home,” Griner wrote.
After Biden received the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Biden also wrote a reply to Griner, which US diplomats personally delivered in Moscow.
Biden assured her wife that he was working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to a read of the White House call. He also told Cherelle Griner that he is working to free Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.
Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States. At the time of his arrest, Whelan was visiting Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother David Whelan.
Griner’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment came as the West repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against withdrawing the hundreds of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border. After Russia’s all-out invasion of its former Soviet neighbor, the US and its allies imposed a series of punitive sanctions on Moscow and built up a multibillion-dollar war chest for Kyiv.
Two months into the war, Russia agreed to release former US Marine Trevor Reed as part of a prisoner swap.
Reed was accused of assaulting a Russian police officer and was arrested by local authorities in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence, and the US government has said he was wrongly imprisoned.
In exchange for Reed’s release, Biden agreed to release Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who is serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States
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