Brittney Griner’s appeal rejected by Russian court

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A Russian court on Tuesday rejected American basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against her more than nine-year prison sentence on drug charges.

The basketball star has been jailed since her arrest on February 17 after being accused of entering Russia with vape cartridges containing hemp oil. which is illegal in Russia. Her lawyers said it was prescribed as part of treatment for chronic pain and other conditions.

The US government describes her arrest as “unjustified detention”.

As Brittney Griner turns 32 in prison, ‘#WeAreBG’ commemorates her plight

Griner appeared in court Tuesday via video link from a detention center outside Moscow. Her lawyers asked for a suspended sentence, while Russian prosecutors argued that 9½ years, just short of the maximum of 10 years, was fair. Griner’s lawyers previously said she wasn’t expecting “miracles.”

“We are very disappointed,” Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, Griner’s lawyers, wrote in a statement. “We still believe the sentence is excessive and contrary to existing case law.”

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Griner addressed the court through an interpreter. “I want to apologize for this mistake,” she said. “It was not my intention, but I understand the complaints,” she added, adding that she hoped her guilty plea was taken into account.

Griner’s attorneys said they would consult with their client about the possibility of further appeals and that they intended to use “all available legal tools.” After the appeal procedure is over, she should be transferred to a penal colony.

Brittney Griner may be going to a Russian penal colony. Here’s what you need to know.

Russia has one of the highest prison rates in Europe. Most of its prisons are known as penal colonies, where inmates are required to perform labor. Investigations by the Russian media have revealed abuses of prisoners in such institutions.

The White House condemned the court’s decision on Tuesday. “We are aware of the news from Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be unjustly detained in intolerable conditions after having to undergo another sham trial today,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney must be released immediately.”

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One way to resolve her situation – and that of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine also imprisoned in Russia – could be a prisoner exchange. Her lawyers said that Griner’s biggest fear is that she will not be replaced and will have to serve her entire sentence in Russia.

“In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris administration has continued to engage with Russia through all available channels, working to bring Brittney home and supporting and advocating for other Americans detained in Russia, including detainee Paul Whelan,” Sullivan said.

Russia desperately wants Viktor Bout back. The question is: Why?

In August, Russia acknowledged for the first time that negotiations were underway to release Griner and Whelan, but did not confirm media reports suggesting a possible exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

Griner, a 6-foot-9 center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained on Feb. 17 while trying to enter Russia at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, where she plays during the WNBA season. She turned 32 a week ago, and while in prison, family and friends have sometimes called for her release and safe return to the United States.

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As Brittney Griner turns 32 in prison, ‘#WeAreBG’ commemorates her plight

Tuesday’s ruling came after a Moscow court decided on Monday to reject an appeal by Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who sought to overturn the granting of his pre-trial detention. He was accused of spreading false information after criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In an Oct. 6 interview with CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King, Griner’s wife Cherelle said she was able to speak with the basketball star twice after her incarceration and that the second phone call was “disturbing,” and she was in tears for days.

“It was the most disturbing phone call I’ve ever had,” said Cherelle Griner. “You could hear she was not well.”

Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.

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