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A Russian court on Tuesday upheld U.S basketball star Brittney Griner’s 9-year sentence to a Russian penal colony, following a legal proceeding that a White House official called a “sham.”
Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport in February after airport officials discovered vape canisters and cannabis oil in her luggage. But news of her detainment didn’t break in the United States until March. She pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into the country. In August, a Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison. Multiple news outlets reported that Griner’s lawyer had asked for a suspended sentence in Tuesday’s appeal but had said they weren’t expecting any “miracles.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the court’s decision means Griner will begin serving her sentence soon, unless the Biden administration negotiates her release. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, had expressed worry about that possibility earlier this month.
“Once that hearing is held and the order is finalized … she could be moved to a labor camp,” Cherelle Griner said earlier this month. “My brain can’t even fathom it.”
The White House has been working for months to secure Brittney Griner’s release from Russia, where she has played professionally since 2014. The WNBA player has a medical marijuana prescription in Arizona, but any amount of the substance is illegal in Russia. Experts have said the length of her sentence appears politically motivated.
There is also concern about the notoriously harsh conditions of Russian prisons and the treatment of Griner, who is gay, in a country known for homophobic persecution.
In a statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated the White House’s position that Griner should be released immediately.
“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,” he said.
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