A Russian appeals court is reviewing the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced in August to nine years in prison in what the US called wrongful detention.
Griner, 32, was attending a hearing in Moscow Regional Court early Tuesday via video conference from the detention center where she is being held. The athlete is expected to be transferred to a penal colony if her appeal is rejected.
Griner “is quite pessimistic about the outcome” of the appeal, one of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, said Monday.
“She hopes there will be a reduction, but not that the decision will be overturned,” Blagovolina said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was sentenced in August to nine years in prison on drug charges.
She was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters of cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner pleaded guilty in July but said it was an accident, that she had brought them to Russia unintentionally and that she had hurriedly packed for a flight. Medical cannabis, which is illegal in Russia, is legal in most of the United States
US officials say Griner was wrongfully arrested. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday called the court proceedings “largely shambolic.”
“Wrongful detainees are by definition wrongfully detained. They are used as political hostages, as leverage,” said Price. “It’s our goal to see them home as soon as we can.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has said that Brittney Griner is being held hostage.
The United States has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia for the release of Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, a corporate executive who has been detained there since 2018, two sources familiar with the matter said. The deal will include the release of US-imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the sources said.
When she was banned, Griner had been in Russia playing for a Russian Premier League women’s team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, as she had done since 2014.
Griner’s lawyers filed an appeal in August after she was convicted.
In April, Russia released American Trevor Reed in exchange for the release from the US of Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Reed, a former Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia in 2020 after authorities there said he assaulted a Russian police officer after a night of drinking. Reed and his family have pleaded not guilty.