American basketball star Griner’s 9-year drug sentence upheld in Russia

  • Court upholds prison sentence for possessing and smuggling narcotics
  • WNBA star arrested with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil
  • Lawyers argued the verdict was not in line with Russian practice
  • Griner reiterates apology, says sentence too severe
  • This content was produced in Russia, where law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.

KRASNOGORSK, Russia, Oct 25 (Reuters) – A Russian court on Tuesday dismissed U.S. WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against a nine-year sentence for possessing and smuggling vaping cartridges containing vape oil. cannabis, paving the way for his return to prison. colony, in a court case that Washington called a “sham”.

US President Joe Biden, whose administration in late July proposed a prisoner swap deal with Russia to secure the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, has said he will not release his efforts to bring them home.

“We are in constant contact with the Russian authorities to get Brittney and others out. So far we haven’t seen a lot of positive responses, but we’re not stopping,” he said.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport, a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. The souring of ties between Russia and the West has further complicated talks between Washington and Moscow to secure his release.

Griner and his lawyers had sought an acquittal or at least a reduction of his sentence, which they said was disproportionate to the offense and contrary to Russian judicial practice.

After receding for up to 30 minutes to consider the appeal, the presiding judge said the original verdict had been upheld ‘with no changes’ except for the tally of time served in pretrial detention as part of the sentence .

The district attorney had said Griner’s August 4 sentencing to nine years in a penal colony was “fair”, but Alexander Boykov, one of his lawyers, told the three-judge panel sitting in Krasnogorsk , on the outskirts of Moscow:

“No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law,” Boykov said.

Griner’s attorneys said in a statement that it will be some time before Griner is transferred to a penal colony and they have not yet decided whether to try to launch another appeal. They also added that his file would need to be translated into English, which would also take some time.

It was not immediately clear where she would be sent.

“The severity and cruelty of Griner’s sentence shocks people around the world,” Boykov said.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, in an earlier statement, described Griner’s conditions as “intolerable circumstances” and the trial she faced “another sham legal proceeding.”

Allowed to make a final statement via live video link from her detention center in the town of Novoye Grishino, just outside Moscow, Griner said how stressful her eight months in detention and two trials had been.

“I had barely exceeded the large amount [of cannabis oil] … People who committed more serious crimes received less than what I received,” she said.

“I DID NOT INTEND TO DO THIS”

Griner apologized for what she said was an honest mistake, as she did during her original trial, saying, “I didn’t mean to do that,” and asking the court to take into account the fact that she had pleaded guilty.

She said she used medical cannabis to relieve pain from a series of sports injuries. Recreational and medicinal uses are prohibited in Russia.

Dressed in a black and red lumberjack shirt over a black hooded top, the 32-year-old alternately sat and stood in her cell, sometimes with her head bowed, sometimes leaning against the white bars.

When asked if she understood the verdict, she simply replied “Yes” before being taken away.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a briefing that Washington had told Moscow, including in their talks in recent days, to commit to the US proposal.

“At the very least, they should engage seriously, constructively and in good faith. If that happens, we’re ready to watch out for it and take action tomorrow,” Price said.

US Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, the top US diplomat in Moscow, told media waiting in court that she was not allowed to speak to Griner before or after the hearing.

Griner’s lawyers said his biggest fear was not being traded and having to serve his full sentence in Russia. “She had hope for today because every month, every day away from her family and friends matters to her.”

Reporting by Filipp Lebedev and Olesya Astakhova; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, writing by Kevin Liffey and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Nick Macfie and Marguerita Choy

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