Brittney Griner's prison sentence upheld by Russian court

US denounces Moscow court's 'sham judicial proceeding' as basketball star spends 250th day in detention

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A Russian court on Tuesday rejected Brittney Griner's appeal to reduce her prison sentence on drug smuggling charges, clearing the way for the US detainee to spend nine years in a penal colony unless the White House secures her release.

Elizabeth Rood, US chargé d’affaires at the embassy in Moscow, denounced the sentencing as “excessive an disproportionate”.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday's ruling does not change Washington's belief that Griner has been wrongfully detained.

"Today's denial of appeal for Brittney Griner is another failure of justice, compounding the injustice of her detention," Mr Blinken said.

The court's rejection of Griner's appeal comes 250 days after she was arrested at a Moscow airport when officials said they found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage.

Before the court's ruling, Griner made an appeal via video link from a detention centre in the town of Novoye Grishino. The US basketball star apologised for mistakenly packing the vape cartridges.

“I did not intend to do this,” she told the court, asking it to take into consideration that she had pleaded guilty during her trial.

“I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic.”

Griner also played down the amount of cannabis oil she had been carrying, saying it was “barely over the significant amount”.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan condemned the Russian court's appeal processed as a “sham judicial proceeding”.

President [Joe] Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately,” he said in a statement.

Mr Biden in July called the court's original verdict unacceptable and the US maintains that she and fellow prisoner Paul Whelan have been wrongfully detained.

US detainee Brittney Griner appears on screen via a video link asking a Russian court to reduce her nine-year prison sentence, in Krasnogorsk, Russia. Reuters

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said discussions with the Kremlin to free Griner and Mr Whelan were ongoing.

But he suggested that those discussions have not been fruitful, citing “the fact that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan remain in detention, the fact that Brittney Griner last week celebrated her 32nd birthday in detention, the fact that Paul Whelan has spent years in detention”.

“I can say there have been active discussions, including in recent days, but our imperative is to see Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner returned home,” he told reporters during a briefing.

The US has offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and Mr Whelan, US and Russian media outlets have reported.

The Kremlin has said negotiating the release of Griner was not a priority.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 5:11 AM