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Griner Denied Appeal, Drug Conviction Upheld by Russian Court

A Russian court on Tuesday denied Brittney Griner’s appeal, upholding the American basketball star’s nine-year prison sentence on drug charges. Griner was sentenced in August and is currently in Russian custody. She was taken into Russian custody in February after being arrested in Moscow.

“We are very disappointed,” Griner’s lawyers said in a statement, as quoted by The New York TimesAfter Tuesday’s conviction, the court upheld it. “The verdict contains numerous defects, and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration.”

Griner will now begin her sentence. However, it will be reduced slightly. According to the Associated Press, the Moscow region court said in its ruling on Tuesday that “the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated with her time in pre-trial detention taken into account.” The AP reported that one day “in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, so the basketball star will have to serve around eight years in prison.”

Griner, a star for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, was arrested in February while traveling to Russia to suit up for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian team for which she had played during the WNBA’s offseason since 2014.

Officials at the airport found cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage.

Her arrest has moved into diplomacy and is now a further obstacle in already strained relations between Russia and the United States.

They have been discussing a possible prisoner swap, which would allow Griner and Paul Whelan to be released. Griner was a U.S. citizen detained by Russia on espionage allegations since 2018.

Although the U.S. offered Viktor Bout to be released from a 25 year sentence in prison in Russia for selling arms, it has not yet reached a settlement.

Earlier this month, Bill Richardson, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and governor of New Mexico, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that both Griner and Whalen will be released by the end of the year.

Richardson, a skilled negotiator who has worked with hostages’ families and their loved ones, visited Moscow last month in order to meet Russian officials.

“I got the sense that the Russian officials that I met with, that I’ve known over the years, are ready to talk,” Richardson said in an interview on CNN. “I got a good sense from the Russians – the vibrations – but I’m not a government official.”

“I’m not part of the government, the government channel. I’ve always made that clear. This is what I believe. Any decision to release a person or exchange prisoners must be made by President. And I think the administration has done a good job on that,” he added.

The families of Griner, Whalen and President Joe Biden met last month.

In August, following Griner’s conviction, Biden said that his administration “will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

“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,” Biden said in a statement. 

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Griner’s “lawyers said they had not decided whether to take the case any further.”

“We need to discuss this with our client,” the lawyers said in a statement, as quoted by the Times. “We generally think that we must use all the available legal tools, especially given the harsh and unprecedented nature of her verdict.”