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Russian court upholds WBNA star Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence

On Tuesday, a Moscow regional appeals court denied an appeal by WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner on drug charges.  Griner, who was playing for a Russian professional team during the WNBA off-season, was arrested just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on drug-smuggling charges. She was convicted nearly three months ago, and will serve nine years in a Russian penal colony unless the U.S. State Department can negotiate a prisoner swap. The State Department has maintained from the start that Griner was wrongly detained, and is being used as a political pawn in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine and sanctions slapped on Moscow by the United States and other Western countries.

Griner’s lawyers argued that her verdict was unfair and unjustified under Russian law. U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated the administration’s position that Griner should be released immediately, saying in a White House statement: “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.”  Sullivan said Biden is willing to go to extraordinary lengths” to make difficult decisions to bring Americans home: “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.” 

Russian authorities arrested Griner on Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after she arrived from the United States. Russian customs officials said they found two vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage and detained her. Griner admitted to owning the cartridges, saying it was an honest mistake and that she had no intention of breaking Russian law.

Editorial credit: Keeton Gale / Shutterstock.com

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