WNBA star Brittney Griner will remain in a Russian prison and serve the bulk of her nine-year sentence following the Moscow Regional Court’s decision on Tuesday to uphold her earlier conviction and sentence for drug possession.
The court credited Griner, who has been in custody since Feb. 17, with 1.5 days of time served
Tuesday’s outcome only hastened fears that Griner would now be sent to one of Russia’s brutal prison colonies, where abuse and even torture reportedly occur routinely.
“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan Sullivan told reporters. “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.”
Griner, 32, pleaded guilty in July to drug smuggling but maintains she didn’t intend to commit a crime, but rather accidentally carried a small amount of cannabis oil in her rush to pack her luggage.
According to CNN, Sullivan stressed that the Biden administration is working to secure the releases of Griner and Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018.
Sullivan said the administration “remains in contact with representatives of the families.”
“In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan,” Sullivan said.
“The president has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his administration has done successfully from countries around the world,” he said.
Biden has offered Russian Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, in exchange for Griner and Whelan but thus far hasn’t been able to strike a deal with Moscow.
“We are very disappointed. The verdict contains numerous defects, and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration,” Griner’s lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement. “We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts the existing court practice.”
“Brittney’s biggest fear is that she is not exchanged and will have to serve the whole sentence in Russia. She had hopes for today as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her,” her lawyers said.