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Brittney Griner Appeals Conviction in Russian Drug Case

Brittney Griner’s lawyers announced Monday that they had appealed her conviction by the Russian Court in an alleged drug smuggling case. This has become a diplomatic dispute.

Griner was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment and found guilty of charges stemming out from February’s arrest at a Moscow airport.

The announcement also occurs at the same time that Russia and America are in talks about a possible prisoner exchange involving Griner, Viktor Bout and Griner. Viktor Bout was a Russian arms trader currently serving a 25 year sentence in the United States.

American officials are also seeking the release Paul Whelan from Russia, a citizen of America, who was detained there since 2018, on charges related to espionage.

The New York Times reported that Griner’s “legal team has said that the appeal, which was expected, would most likely take up to three months to be adjudicated,” and that “Russian officials have said that all legal avenues must be exhausted before a potential exchange can be discussed.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late last month that the United States’ offer to release Bout in exchange for Griner and Whelan represented a “substantial proposal,” but Russian officials have so far balked at the arrangement.

As reported by CNN and others, Alexander Darchiev, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department director, confirmed the prisoner negotiations over the weekend.

“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our Presidents. This is indeed happening. Russian forces have long sought Viktor Bout’s freedom. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle,” Darchiev told Russian state media TASS, as quoted by CNN.

Griner pleaded guilty but claimed she didn’t intend to violate the law. She was convicted of drug offenses on August 4. Prosecutors had sought a nine-and-a-half year prison sentence––only slightly lower than the maximum sentence of 10 years. The case was referred to the court for a hearing.

Griner was arrested on February 17 while traveling back to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian team for whom she has suited up during the WNBA’s offseason since 2014.

An airport officer discovered that she had cannabis oil in her bag. The incident has led to another point of tension between Russia, the United States, and Russia.

In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained.”

President Joe Biden denounced Griner’s guilty verdict and conviction earlier this month, and vowed to bring her home.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” he added.

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” the president continued.

Griner, who testified at a hearing last month that the Russian language interpreter she received during her questioning only provided partial translations and she wasn’t given a clear explanation about her rights.

Based on The New York Times, Griner’s “defense team argued in the appeal that the Khimki court had ignored ‘serious procedural violations during detention, extraction of physical evidence, arrest and investigation.’”