Brittney Griner thanks fans as she spends birthday in Russian prison

Basketball star's appeal against prison sentence scheduled for next week

The US has classified Brittney Griner, who was sentenced in Russia to nine years in a penal colony on a drug smuggling conviction, as 'wrongfully detained'. Reuters
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US basketball star Brittney Griner, whose appeal against a Russian prison sentence is scheduled to be heard next week, thanked fans for their support on her 32nd birthday.

Griner last month was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony on drug smuggling charges. She pleaded guilty during her trial.

“All the support and love are definitely helping me,” Griner was quoted as saying by her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov.

During her trial, Griner said she had mistakenly packed cannabis vape cartridges in her suitcase as she was preparing to leave Russia for the US. She was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17 when authorities found the cartridges in her luggage.

Griner called it an “honest mistake”. Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

She is scheduled to appear in court again on October 25.

“Not only is this her birthday in jail away from her family, teammates and friends, but she is very stressed in anticipation of the appeal hearing,” her lawyers said.

A US consular official spoke with Griner and fellow detainee Paul Whelan over the phone on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to Russia, said he hopes the two detainees will be released by the end of the year.

Washington has classified both Griner and Mr Whelan as wrongfully detained.

US basketball star sentenced to nine years in Russian jail

US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.  - A Russian court found Griner guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics after prosecutors requested a sentence of nine and a half years in jail for the athlete.  (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA  /  POOL  /  AFP)

Media outlets have reported that the White House has offered a prisoner swap in which Washington would release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. But the White House said the Kremlin has yet to respond to its offer.

“There was a substantial proposal on the table earlier this summer to facilitate their release,” Mr Patel said at a news briefing.

“Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and the Russians should take that deal.”

An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that Griner's detention is not a priority for the Kremlin.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: October 20, 2022, 6:14 AM