Brittney Griner’s appeal for a reduced prison sentence was rejected by a Russian court on Tuesday, October 25. The queer American basketball player will continue to serve her nine year sentence in a Russian prison, unless US leaders can negotiate a trade in exchange for her freedom.
Brittney Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17, 2022, two weeks before Russian forces invaded Ukraine. She was trying to enter Russia to join her club basketball team when authorities discovered vape cartridges with less than a gram of cannabis oil inside her luggage. She has been in Russian custody ever since.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in August, a decision that her lawyers described as unreasonable and excessive. They filed for an appeal which took place at the Moscow Regional Court on October 25. Griner attended the appeal hearing via video conference and stated her case in front of a panel of three judges. She said:
“I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given…I really hope the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and my psyche and being away from my family, not being able to communicate.”
Despite these arguments and Griner’s lawyer calling the ruling unjustified, the judge upheld the original nine-year prison sentence. The court clarified that the time she has served so far will be applied to her overall sentence, so she has eight years remaining. Griner is expected to be moved to a penal colony – a remote prison, in the coming months.
The US has maintained that Brittney Griner’s sentence is disproportionate to her crime. The American basketball organisation, WNBA, has said that the rejected appeal is further evidence that Griner is being wrongfully detained and held hostage.
The following statement was released regarding Brittney Griner pic.twitter.com/gPhTmq3O9K
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 25, 2022
US officials have tried to accelerate Griner’s release by proposing a prisoner swap with Russia, but so far, these efforts have been unsuccessful. President Joe Biden has said that he is willing to discuss Griner’s release at the G-20 Summit in November.
In a statement released by her attorneys regarding Brittney Griner’s appeal, the Olympian said “Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home…All the support and love are definitely helping me.”
This news comes on the same day that the appeal of two queer activists, Magamadov and Isayev, was also rejected. The two brothers were kidnapped and jailed by Russian police in 2020 for posting support for LGBTQ+ rights on WhatsApp. They are being ordered to serve their six year and eight year prison sentences respectively. After investigating their case, the Human Rights Watch continues to raise concern that Russian authorities violently kidnap and persecute LGBTQ+ people.
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