Russian Court Upholds Brittney Griner’s Drug Smuggling Conviction |

Russian Court Upholds Brittney Griner’s Drug Smuggling Conviction

If Brittney Griner is going to return to the U.S. anytime soon, it almost certainly will happen via a prisoner exchange.

via: CNN

A judge in Russia has left Brittney Griner’s verdict in place, upholding on Tuesday the US basketball star’s conviction on drug smuggling charges and reducing only slightly her nine-year prison sentence.

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 intent.

“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.

“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.

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