Brittney Griner: US basketball star’s appeal rejected by Russian court, why is she in prison?

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The US basketball player was convicted in a Russian court on drug charges after being found in possession of cannabis oil

US basketball player Brittney Griner has had her Russian jail term appeal rejected and will serve the nine-year sentence handed down to her.

The WBA player, often refered to as one of the best basketball player in the world, faced a Moscow court, with the court upholding the initial sentence. The state prosecutor called the ruling “fair”.

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Griner, 32, was convicted on drug smuggling and possession charges in August. She had been arrested by Russian police in February at Moscow Airport.

Her lawyer spoke of the rejection of the appeal and denounced the strict sentence. Alexander Boykov said: "No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law."

Brittney Griner has been imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, with the White House referring to the legal process as a “sham”. (Credit: Getty Images)Brittney Griner has been imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, with the White House referring to the legal process as a “sham”. (Credit: Getty Images)
Brittney Griner has been imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, with the White House referring to the legal process as a “sham”. (Credit: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Why was Brittney Griner jailed in Russia?

On 17 February 2022, Griner travelled to Moscow to play basketball in Russia during the US-off season period. It was at Moscow Airport she was discovered to have travelled with a vape device and cartridges containing cannabis oil, which she had been prescribed to use in the US.

Griner was detained by authorities on drug possession charges, before being tried in a Russian court in July. However, the diplomatic situation between the US and Russia changed shortly after Griner’s arrest, after the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

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With sanctions introduced as a result of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the diplomatic relationship between the US and Russia is at an all time low. Therefore, Griner’s incarceration had become a tough-fought battle for the US.

Griner herself has also almost been used as leverage between the two countries. In August, the Kremlin floated the idea of a prisoner swap, with Griner being released in exchange for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Following her trial, Griner was convicted of drug smuggling and possession charges, to which she pleaded guilty. While pleading guilty, she told the court that although she had brought the drugs into the country, she had no intent to do so or to break the law.

Eventually, the basketball player was sentenced to nine years in prison, which she is currently serving at a penal colony. She has also been ordered to pay a fine of 1,000,000 roubles (around $16,000).

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What happened at Brittney Griner’s appeal hearing?

Unsurprisingly, Griner’s sentence was labelled as harsh by the US Government. The White House called the trial and charging of the basketball player a “sham” in the first place.

Griner launched an appeal against the tough nine-year-long sentence. Her hearing took place on 25 October and she appeared via video link.

She told the court: "I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic. People with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.”

Boykov, the athlete’s lawyer added: "No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law."

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The Russian judge refused the appeal, with the nine-year sentence still in place. The White House and President Joe Biden continue to advocate for her release.

Jake Sullivan, a US National Security adviser, said in a statement: “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. President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.

He added: “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.

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