Brittney Griner is set to begin nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony


Brittney Griner’s appeal of her nine-year prison sentence on drug charges has been rejected by a Moscow court, and the WNBA star is now expected to serve her time in a Russian penal colony.  

Griner, an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted August 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

She took part in Tuesday’s session, held at the Moscow Regional Court via video call, from a penal colony outside Moscow, where she is being held. While her attorneys argued that Griner’s actions lacked intent, the 6-foot-9 basketball star addressed the court, asking to have her sentence adjusted: ‘This has been a very traumatic experience, waiting for this day … getting nine years for the crime. People with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.’

Griner also apologized for what she described as a mistake. ‘I did not intend to do this, but I understand the charges brought against me and I just hope that that is taken into account too, that I did plead guilty.’

The judge at Tuesday’s hearing claimed that Griner was caught with a significant amount of drugs, although reports following her February arrest put the quantity at less than a gram of hashish oil. 

Although expected, the ruling means that Griner’s best chance at escaping prison remains a prisoner swap with the United States, but such a deal is politically fraught following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Furthermore, Griner’s attorneys told assembled media on Tuesday that their client fears she will ultimately be forced to serve her full sentence. 

The White House released a statement calling Tuesday’s hearing a ‘sham judicial proceeding’ and condemning the ‘intolerable circumstances’ facing Griner after she was ‘wrongfully detained.’

Brittney Griner appears on a screen via video link from the detention centre before a court hearing to consider an appeal against her prison sentence, in Krasnogorsk, Moscow Region, Russia

Brittney Griner appears on a screen via video link from the detention centre before a court hearing to consider an appeal against her prison sentence, in Krasnogorsk, Moscow Region, Russia

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen on the bottom part of a TV screen as she waits to appear in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service a courtroom

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen on the bottom part of a TV screen as she waits to appear in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service a courtroom

Journalists covering the appeal hearing for Brittney Griner are seen packed outside of a Moscow-area court room

Journalists covering the appeal hearing for Brittney Griner are seen packed outside of a Moscow-area court room

Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in August for drug smuggling, is seen on a screen via a video link from a remand prison during a court hearing to consider an appeal against her sentence, at the Moscow regional court on Tuesday

Griner is pictured with her wife, Cherelle

Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in August for drug smuggling, is seen on a screen via a video link from a remand prison during a court hearing to consider an appeal against her sentence, at the Moscow regional court on Tuesday. Right, Griner is pictured with her wife, Cherelle

‘President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately,’ the statement read. ‘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. 

‘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. The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.’

The US Embassy in Moscow also weighed in on the ruling. 

‘Today was another sad day for the rule of law in the Russian Federation,’ Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, said outside the courthouse. ‘The appeals court made a slight reduction in her sentence for time served in pretrial detention, but otherwise did not change the excessive and disproportionate sentence of nine years in a penal colony.

‘Nothing in the previous sentence, nothing in the result of today’s appeal changes the fact that the United States government considers Ms. Griner to be wrongfully detained,’ Rood said.

Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, expressed their frustration and disappointment with Tuesday’s ruling. 

‘The verdict contains numerous defects and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration,’ they said. ‘We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts the existing court practice.’

Blagovolina went on to say that Griner is ‘the one who is the most disappointed today.’

‘She had some hopes and this hope has vanished today,’ Blagovolina said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen on the bottom part of a TV screen as she waits to appear in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service a courtroom prior to a hearing at the Moscow Regional Court in Moscow, Russia

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen on the bottom part of a TV screen as she waits to appear in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service a courtroom prior to a hearing at the Moscow Regional Court in Moscow, Russia

Griner’s February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where she played during the US league’s offseason.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but testified that she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Griner’s lawyers argued after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the US State Department declared Griner to be ‘wrongfully detained’ — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a ‘substantial proposal’ to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US and once earned the nickname the ‘merchant of death.’

Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4

Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on August 4

The US Government has reportedly offered convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who faces a 25-year sentence, for Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in Russia

The US Government has reportedly offered convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who faces a 25-year sentence, for Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in Russia

The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.

Russian diplomats have refused to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the matter in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.

In September, US President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, as well as the player’s agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat down separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister.

The White House said after the meetings that the president stressed to the families his ‘continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.’

The Biden administration carried out a prisoner swap in April, with Moscow releasing Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the US releasing a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted in a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Moscow also has protested the arrest of another Russian currently in US custody, Alexander Vinnik, who was accused of laundering billions of dollars via an illicit cryptocurrency exchange. Vinnik had been in custody in Greece after being arrested there in 2017 at US request before being extradited to the US in August. It wasn’t clear if Russia might demand Vinnik’s release as part of a potential swap.

People visit a mural of Brittney Griner and other hostages around the world created by the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, a campaign led by family members of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington

People visit a mural of Brittney Griner and other hostages around the world created by the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, a campaign led by family members of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington

Cherelle appeared to acknowledge her wife’s culpability when speaking with CBS earlier this month, but slammed the punishment Brittney has received.

‘I do believe a crime should warrant a punishment,’ Cherelle remarked. ‘But it must be balanced… B.G. has truly suffered beyond her crime already.’

Adding to Cherelle’s grief is the prospect of labor camp.

Griner smiles inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Khimki Court in the town of Khimki on July 15

Griner smiles inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at the Khimki Court in the town of Khimki on July 15

‘Once that hearing is held, and the order is finalized, B.G.’s now in the position where she could be moved to a labor camp,’ Cherelle said. ‘My brain can’t even fathom it.’

The situation is obviously complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has left Brittney feeling like a political pawn.

‘She’s, like, saying things to me like, ‘My life just don’t even matter no more,” Cherelle said. ‘You know, ‘I feel like my life just doesn’t matter. Like, I’m just being tossed around, like, for people’s enjoyment and gain.’

‘Those are all valid emotions to feel and I don’t have answers for, except the fact that your life matters to me, and I wanna get you back home,’ Cherelle said. ‘I’m gonna continue to pray every day that, you know, the people that are the decision-makers in this situation will have mercy and will sit down, and they will, too, see that your life matters, and do whatever they can to agree — on terms.’

Griner has only spoken with her wife twice since being last February, and the latter of the two calls left her partner disturbed and crying for days.

That exchange was in stark contrast to a previous call, where Cherelle says Brittney was more upbeat.

‘I think I cried for about two, three days straight,’ Cherelle told co-host Gayle King. ‘It was the most disturbing phone call I’d ever experienced.

‘I think I cried for about two, three days straight. It was the most disturbing phone call I’d ever experienced.

‘It’s just the most still, I think, moment I’ve just ever shared with my wife,’ she continued. ‘I didn’t have words.’

Cherelle remains hopeful that political tensions could lead to a prisoner swap that allows Brittney to return to the United States.

BRITTNEY GRINER’S LIFE BEHIND BARS: WNBA STAR AND GOLD MENDALIST SPENDS 23 HOURS A DAY IN A TINY CELL WITH TWO OTHER INMATES AT ‘THE MOST DREADED’ WOMEN’S PRISON IN RUSSIA

By Paul Farrell for DailyMail.com 

Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-9 WNBA star, has been spending her days leading up to her appeal hearing on drug charges in a cramped Russian cell with two other prisoners.

US citizen Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on August 4 after pleading guilty to drug charges.

She insisted she inadvertently broke the law when she traveled with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Griner’s appeal of her nine-year sentence was rejected on October 25, paving the way for her to begin her sentence in a penal colony. 

Griner is one of the more than 1,200 prisoners at IK-1, located around 50 miles from Moscow

Griner is one of the more than 1,200 prisoners at IK-1, located around 50 miles from Moscow

Female prisoners of IK-1 are seen on their way to work in the sewing facility

Female prisoners of IK-1 are seen on their way to work in the sewing facility 

Previously, her lawyer, Alexandr D. Boykov said in an interview with the New York Times that his client is struggling in prison.

Her cellmates at Correctional Colony No.1 or IK-1, a pre-trial detention center, are both English speakers who are also in jail on drug charges. Prison rules dictate that inmates are only allowed to shower twice a week.

The building, located an hour outside Moscow, is a former children’s orphanage that was converted into a prison around 2012. There are 1,248 prisoners in the facility. It features a sewing factory that employees more than 400 inmates and a Russian Orthodox church.

In the prison courtyard, where Griner is afforded her only chance to get fresh air once a day, there is a statue of Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of the Soviet Union.

In July, the Times referred to the prison as having ‘gray painted halls and grim tall walls.’

Russia’s penal institutions house nearly 520,000 inmates, by far the largest number in Europe. A little under 50,000 of these prisoners are women.

In 2008, the Wall Street Journal named IK-1 as one of ‘Putin’s torture colonies.’

The Journal’s report details a practice at the jail in which new prisoners are lined up and forced to run a gauntlet through a group of prison officers who take turns hitting the inmates with truncheons.

Most of Russia's prisons are collective colonies, a system dating back to the Soviet Gulag era, with inmates sleeping in dormitories and working in production facilities

Most of Russia’s prisons are collective colonies, a system dating back to the Soviet Gulag era, with inmates sleeping in dormitories and working in production facilities

The building is a former children's orphanage that was converted into a prison around 2012

The building is a former children’s orphanage that was converted into a prison around 2012

Russia's penal institutions house nearly 520,000 inmates, by far the largest number in Europe. A little under 50,000 of these prisoners are women

Russia’s penal institutions house nearly 520,000 inmates, by far the largest number in Europe. A little under 50,000 of these prisoners are women

One inmate at the prison tried to commit suicide by swallowing nails tied together with wires, the Journal reported.

Boykov described Griner saying: ‘She has not been in as good condition as I could sometimes find her in.’ According to the lawyer, Griner is reading a book about the Rolling Stones, Dostoyevsky’s book Demons and regularly plays a game that’s similar to Battleship.’

He said that Griner is forced to sleep in a bed that has been modified to accommodate her height.

Her attorney continued: ‘She is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home. She is very worried about what the price of that will be, and she is afraid that she will have to serve the whole sentence here in Russia.’

Boykov said that he last spoke to Griner on October 11. He said that she is worried about the conditions she will face in a new prison following her appeal.

He added: ‘Perhaps the verdict will somehow be changed and, perhaps, the sentence will be reduced, because the decision taken by the first court is very different from judicial practice.’

‘Considering all the circumstances, taking into account my client’s personality traits and her admission of guilt, such a verdict should be absolutely impossible,’ the lawyer continued.

Boykov said that it has been nearly impossible for Griner to speak to friends and family and that even organizing phone calls with the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle, was difficult.

The sewing facility inside of IK-1 employs more than 400 women at a time

The sewing facility inside of IK-1 employs more than 400 women at a time 

He described the prison as being too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.

The last high-profile prisoner to spend time at IK-1 was Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American who was sentenced to ten years when a third of an ounce was found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

She was initially charged with drug possession, which typically carries a one-month sentence in Russia, but that was later upgraded to drug smuggling and she was jailed for seven and a half years.

Putin later pardoned Issachar in a move that was a seen as a political coup for then Israeli- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Issachar was quoted as once saying that the clouds were the only part of the outside world that inmates can see from the prison.

Most of Russia’s prisons are collective colonies, a system dating back to the Soviet Gulag era, with inmates sleeping in dormitories and working in production facilities.

A Radio Free Europe investigation from 2019 identified a different prison known as IK-14 as the ‘most dreaded female correctional facility’ in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘is satisfied with such prisons….He wants to have a frightening instrument in his hands. You need to have a place where everyone is afraid to go,’ Olga Romanova, head of the prisoners’ rights group Rus Sidyashchaya (Russia Behind Bars), said.

In the prison courtyard, where Griner is afforded her only chance to get fresh air once a day, there is a statue of Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of the Soviet Union

In the prison courtyard, where Griner is afforded her only chance to get fresh air once a day, there is a statue of Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of the Soviet Union



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