A Russian court upheld Brittney Griner’s sentence on drug smuggling charges, clearing the way for her to serve nine years in a penal colony unless the U.S. government can negotiate a deal for her release.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the decision "another sham judicial proceeding today. President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately."
Some say this decision is a step closer to moving Griner closer to a prisoner swap.
Griner’s lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov urged the three-judge panel on Tuesday to acquit or reduce her nine-year sentence, which they said did not fit the offense of possessing less than one gram of cannabis oil when entering the country last February.
"No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner's nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law," Boykov told the judges.
Griner, who took part via video link, made a final statement, reported Reuters.
She said how stressful her eight-month detention and two trials had been, adding: "I was barely over the significant amount [of cannabis oil] ... People with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given."
Griner again apologized for her mistake, as she had at her original trial in August. "I did not intend to do this," and she asked the court to take into account the fact that she had pleaded guilty.
The state prosecutor told the court that Griner's sentence was "fair."
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and center for the Phoenix Mercury pleaded guilty in August saying she'd made an "honest mistake" and did not mean to break the law. Griner, a legal medical marijuana patient in the U.S., was returning to Moscow to finish off her 7th season with a Russian basketball team when she was detained just one week prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
What’s Next? Prisoner Swap?
American officials have accused Russia of using Griner and other Americans in custody as bargaining chips. Washington, which said Griner was wrongfully detained, has offered a swap involving her and former Marine Paul Whelan in exchange for the notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. Moscow has also indicated it is open to a prisoner swap.
Although, an aide to Vladimir Putin said recently that Brittney Griner is "not the main issue that we are concerned about."
Biden said two weeks ago that he would be willing to speak to Putin at next month's Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia but only to discuss Griner’s case.
Photo: Keeton Gale and Rawf8 by Shutterstock.
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