Brittney Griner once used to dominate the basketball court, but now, Russian courts have complete dominance over the WNBA superstar. Tuesday, October 25, Griner’s appeal against her nine-year imprisonment sentence was denied by an appeals court in Russia. The body deemed the initial sentence “fair” and upheld the conviction. The athlete will now be sent to one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies.
In February this year, Brittney Griner was arrested when authorities found CBD vape cartridges in her luggage. Griner insisted she had packed this prescription medication by mistake as she was familiar with the strict Russian drug laws. Despite her lawyer focusing on this as a mistake rather than malicious, Griner was sentenced to a nine-year prison term in August.
Griner’s legal team has assured her that she can still pursue an appeal through the Russian court of cassation, the nation’s highest court of appeals. While Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina did state to reporters, “We think we should use all legal tools available, but that is her (Griner’s) decision to take,” she also added that her client “had some hope that vanished today.”
The White House called the court proceedings a “sham” and called for the immediate release of Brittney Griner. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed that President Biden is “willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home.”
The Biden administration is actively attempting to bring Griner home. A week before today’s verdict, it was confirmed that the White House made an offer to the Russian government to secure the release of the basketball star and Paul Whelan, a former United States Marine.
In a heartbreaking letter to the President dated July 5, Griner pleaded for his help. Griner wrote she was “alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends.” The letter prompted President Biden and Vice-President Harris to call Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and assure her the WNBS star’s release was being actively pursued.
Griner’s case is widely considered to be political in nature. Her February 17 arrest and detention occurred as the Western world repeatedly warned Russian president Vladimir Putin to withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops positioned along the Ukrainian borders. One week later, Russia invaded the neighboring country.
As the United States and its allies placed countless sanctions on Russia, many have deemed Griner a high-profile hostage intended to be used as leverage against these punitive actions.