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Russian court denies WNBA’s Griner appeal, still 9 years in prison

The United States' Brittney Griner (15) shoots over Japan's Maki Takada (8) during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Women's Basketball Final at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 8, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
October 25, 2022

A Russian court denied WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal of a nine-year prison sentence on drug charges, NBC News reported. The athlete is now believed to be bound for a Russian penal colony.

The Phoenix Mercury player and two-time Olympic gold medalist reportedly told the court she “did not intend to” pack cannabis oil in her luggage, as Russian authorities alleged in her February arrest at a Moscow airport. 

She asked the court for leniency because of her guilty plea, and her time already served has been “stressful” and “traumatic,” according to NBC.

Russian penal colonies are vestiges of the Soviet Union’s gulag system, and they can vary in harshness, according to Insider. Recent years have seen the reintroduction of forced labor, under which women usually cook, clean or sew.

Before her arrest, Griner had been set to spend the WNBA’s offseason playing for a Russian team, which reportedly paid her four times what she made with the Phoenix Mercury.

She previously admitted in court to accidentally packing two vape cartridges totalling less than a gram of hashish oil. She also showed documents proving the oil had been legally prescribed by a doctor, and had never failed a drug test, according to NPR. 

Her detainment has become a diplomatic situation as the U.S. has worked to secure her release amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Griner is being “wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances,” labeling the denial of the appeal a “sham judicial proceeding.”

He also said the Biden administration is engaging with Russia “through every available channel” and making “every effort to bring home Brittney.”

There was a glimmer of hope in the summer as the U.S. considered swapping Griner for Russian prisoners, including an arms dealer known as the “merchant of death” imprisoned by the U.S. in 2012. 

Two Russians were recently arrested in Europe at the request of the U.S., which Russian media speculated was a tactic to get leverage for Griner’s release, according to NPR. 

The Russian government vowed to do “everything possible” to keep the Russians from being extradited to the U.S., NPR reported.