MOSCOW — A Moscow appeals court reaffirmed American basketball star Britney Griner’s nine-year sentence on drug smuggling charges — a decision that in effect sends Griner to serve out her term in a Russian prison colony, even as Moscow and Washington appear set to reengage in talks for a possible prisoner swap that could see her released much sooner.
Griner observed Tuesday’s hearing by video feed from a prison cell in a women’s detention center outside Moscow, relying on a court appointed interpreter to follow the proceedings.
“Can she see the interpreter?” asked one of the three judges on the panel at Griner’s hearing.
“Are you wearing a white shirt and a black jacket?” responded Griner, squinting back through cell bars at the screen in front of her.
In a tweet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the decision “another failure of justice, compounding the injustice of her detention,” and said that securing Griner’s release “is our priority.”
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor, called the hearing “another sham judicial proceeding,” saying in a statement, “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.”
Sullivan emphasized that the U.S. has “continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney” and other Americans.
According to a statement released by Griner’s legal team ahead of Tuesday’s ruling, Griner had entered the day with few illusions.
“Brittney does not expect any miracles to happen but hopes that the appeal court will hear the arguments of the defense and reduce the term,” read the statement.
In August, a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram (0.04 oz.) of hashish oil into Russia when she arrived for play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league earlier this year.
In court, Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in her rush to pack her luggage — but provided documents that showed the oil was legally prescribed by her U.S. doctor for pain management. She also never failed a drug test.
The U.S. government has labeled Griner “wrongfully detained” and referred her case to the State Department’s office for hostage affairs amid charges the case was politically motivated.
Griner’s Russian lawyers have also noted the American’s nine-year sentence on drug charges was unusually harsh, even by Russian legal standards.