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A Russian court has denied the appeal of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who faces nine years in prison on drug charges, dating back to Feb. 17.
She appeared virtually at her appeal hearing on Tuesday and pleaded for the court to reassess her sentence, saying that people found guilty of lesser crimes were given shorter sentences.
“I beg that the court takes in all of the stakes that was overlooked in the first court and reassess my sentence here,“ Griner said, apologizing for her “mistake” and saying that her imprisonment has been “traumatic.”
Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained, and some officials have expressed concern that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing war.
Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in July, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage mistakenly and that she had no “intention” of breaking Russian drug laws. Griner was found guilty on drug charges in a Moscow-area court on Aug. 4 and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Her attorneys filed an appeal on Aug. 15.
President Biden has previously said the US government “would continue to work tirelessly” to free Griner and that may be true beyond public view, however, what we can see is no tangible movement or momentum since earlier conversations surrounding a prisoner swap was rumored about in July.
As the US works to secure her freedom, Griner’s attorney told ABC News earlier this month that the basketball superstar is worried that she may not be released at all.
While her days are wasted away inside a prison cell, Russia’s willingness to negotiate privately may be accelerated now that the legal matter is behind Griner. If the court’s decision is upheld, the “legal process will be basically over,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated in late July that a possible prisoner swap with the United States involving Griner would only be potentially achieved behind closed doors. With her appeal now formally denied, the White House may be in a better position to negotiate her freedom, but only time will tell.
As Griner turned 32 behind bars in Russia last week, she was able to speak to her lawyers and with U.S. officials. “Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me,” Griner said through a message shared by her attorneys.
On Tuesday, The White House National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, remarked, “We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today.”
Sullivan continued, “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately. In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan. The President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his Administration has done successfully from countries around the world. The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.”
October 25 marks 250 days Brittney Griner has been inside a Russian prison cell.