The WNBA star’s legal team have appealed the verdict given on 4 August

BY FRAN DI FAZIO, IMAGE BY CREATIVE COMMONS

Queer WNBA star Brittney Griner was recently sentenced to nine years by Russian court. She was detained at a Moscow airport and charged with drug possession back in February. Griner, 31, was found carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Her lawyers brought evidence to court that she uses cannabis for medical reasons.

On 4 August, the court of Khimki, near Moscow, found Brittney guilty of drug smuggling and cannabis possession and sentenced her to spend nine years in a Russian penal colony. She was also issued a one-million rubles fine, which amounts to over £13,000. Brittney has been reported to have said “I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here” in court following concluding remarks. 

Brittney’s legal team appealed the verdict on 15 August. A decision on the appeal should come in three months’ time. 

The US government is following the situation closely. In an official statement, President Joe Biden accused Russia of unlawfully detaining Griner.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” reads the White House note.

Brittney’s detainment came at a moment of great tension in US-Russia relations, as she was detained shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. However, diplomatic relations over her release have been underway.

On 13 August, Russian authorities hinted at the possibility of releasing Brittney in a prisoner swap also involving former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was jailed in Russia in 2020 on espionage charges. According to the Russian press, Moscow is seeking the release of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Also known as the Merchant of Death, Bout is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in a US prison. In 2008, he was arrested in Thailand. In 2011, he was convicted in the United States for conspiring to kill American citizens.

At the moment, the talks of a prisoner swap seems to remain the most likely solution, as Brittney’s acquittal by the Russian judiciary seems unlikely.

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

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