A Russian court on Tuesday dismissed the appeal of US basketball star Brittney
Griner against a nine-year sentence for possessing and smuggling vape cartridges
containing cannabis oil.
Griner’s sentence will be modified to count the time she spent in pretrial detention
after her February 17 arrest at a Moscow airport, the judge ruled, with each day in
pretrial custody counting as 1.5 days toward her prison sentence. It was not
immediately clear exactly how much that would reduce the sentence.
The decision came after an appeal hearing Tuesday at which Griner, whom the US
considers wrongfully detained, again apologized as she and her attorneys asked the
court for a more lenient sentence, arguing the verdict was unfair and unjustified
under Russian law. The attorneys urged the court to acquit her, calling her sentence
disproportionate and the previous court ruling wrong in saying Griner had criminal
“I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have been
given less than what I was given,” Griner said Tuesday, appearing at the hearing via
video link from her detention center, Correctional Colony No. 1 in Novoye Grishino,
north of Moscow.
Read Also:Russian court gives Brittney Griner nine years on drugs charges
“I really hope the court will adjust this sentence,” she said before the judgment,
“because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and my
psyche and being away from my family, not being able to communicate.”
Griner’s attorneys expressed disappointment after the hearing, saying in a statement
the verdict “contains numerous defects” and they feel “the punishment is excessive.”
US officials have tried to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another
American imprisoned in Russia, by proposing a prisoner swap with Russia.
Those efforts have continued in recent weeks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
said Tuesday in a statement that called the latest hearing a “sham,” adding,
“President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.”
But with her appeal unsuccessful, Griner, a two-time US Olympic gold medalist, is
concerned she will have to serve out the remainder of her sentence in Russia, her
attorneys said, if the United States and Russia can’t strike a deal for a prisoner swap.
“She had hopes for today,” the lawyers said, “as each month, each day away from her
family and friends matters to her.”
The US State Department has maintained Griner is wrongfully detained, and her case
has prompted concern she is being used as a political pawn amid the backdrop of
Russia’s war against Ukraine. That has not changed, the most senior American
diplomat in Moscow told reporters Tuesday outside the Moscow Regional Court.
“Nothing in the previous sentence, nothing in the result of today’s appeal changes
the fact that the United States government considers Griner to be wrongfully
detained,” US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood said.
Griner was initially taken into custody days before the start of Russia’s invasion of
Ukraine – when authorities accused her of trying to smuggle less than a gram of
cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner plays in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason.