Brittney Griner is headed to a Russian penal colony on drug charges. How did we get here?

Lawyers for US basketball star Brittney Griner said her move to a penal colony could happen within weeks after her appeal in a Moscow court failed to overturn a nine-year prison sentence for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil.
The prosecutor called the decision to uphold the original court ruling “fair”.

Griner’s lawyers said the sentence was manifestly disproportionate to the amount of drug found in Griner’s possession on February 17, a week before Russia deployed troops to invade Ukraine.

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) athlete had been to Russia to play a basketball game during the US off-season.
“No judge, with a tight heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law,” one of his lawyers, Alexander Boykov, told the court.

“We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts existing judicial practice,” Boykov said in a joint statement with lawyer Maria Blagovolina.

A man and a woman come out of a door

Brittney Griner’s lawyers Maria Blagovolina (left) and Alexander Boykov (center) said the ruling was “excessive” and will consider further options for legal recourse. sources: AAP / Ivan Vodopyanov

What was she accused of?

On August 4, Griner was convicted in a Moscow court on charges of attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia.

The Khimki City Court imposed a fine of one million rubles ($ 25,144) and a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence in one of more than 650 criminal institutions in Russia, where prisoners work long hours and survive on a minimum of four hours of sleep.

American basketball star Griner was sentenced to prison in Russia image

In his concluding statement before his sentence was handed down, Griner told the court he had made “an honest mistake”.

“That’s why I pleaded guilty to my charges, but I had no intention of breaking the law.”

Where does Griner’s ruling fit into the spectrum of drug charges?

The prison sentence is at the upper end of the range of penalties in the Russian penal code.
A lower penalty includes fines and 15 days of imprisonment for amounts of up to 6 grams of cannabis or two grams of hashish. Larger quantities could result in a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Griner was found carrying vaporizer cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17.

In July, the athlete pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis oil, saying he had no intention of breaking Russian laws and “inadvertently” packing the vape cartridges. She says she uses the drug for medicinal purposes.

The guilty plea was seen by some analysts as a strategy to facilitate a prisoner swap and a concession that acquittal was not an option.

What are the concerns raised about your case?

Griner has been in prison for more than eight months since his arrest.
When his sentence was passed in May, the US government publicly announced a change in its approach.

Officials said they were actively negotiating his release as a “top priority” and had reclassified his status as “wrongfully detained”.

Two video images one above the other.  Above is a courtroom and below is US basketball player Brittney Griner in a cage in a remand prison.

Two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner was unsuccessful in appealing to her conviction for cannabis possession in Russia and now faces the prospect of serving more than nine years in a Russian penal colony. sources: Getty / Kirill Kudryavtsev

“This step [Griner’s conviction] highlights our significant concerns about the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of illegal detentions to advance its agenda, using individuals as political pawns, “said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The mid-term elections in the United States on November 8 should take into account the negotiations, with analysts saying that any release deal agreed by Russia will not happen until after the vote.

This would avoid giving Mr. Biden a political victory to boost his campaign.

What happens now?

Griner’s lawyers, Ms. Blagovolina and Mr. Boykov, said they are weighing their legal options before getting to the point where Griner is transferred to a penal colony.
“We generally think we need to use all available legal tools, especially given the harsh and unprecedented nature of his verdict,” they said.
Griner spent his 32nd birthday behind bars last week. During a meeting with his lawyers she passed a message to her supporters through them.

“Thank you all for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me,” she said.

Ms. Blagovolina and Mr. Boykov said Griner’s main concern right now is hoping the US government will succeed in its efforts to secure a deal for his release.

“Brittney’s biggest fear is that she won’t be traded and will have to serve her entire sentence in Russia. She had hopes for today as every month, every day away from her family and friends is important to her,” the statement said. joint of lawyers.

Female basketball players form a circle before a game in support of Brittney Griner

The Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun team up before the game in support of Brittney Griner on August 4, 2022 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Basketball stars, including NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry, have added their voices to requests for Griner’s release. sources: Getty / Chris Marion / NBAE

They include the decisions made by Griner’s legal team and information provided by the Russian authorities about his transfer to a penal colony.

“Ultimately, it’s about illicit inmates. It’s about Americans; it’s about the lives of individuals who have been separated from their families for the better part of a year in Brittney Griner’s case and the better part of four years when it comes to Paul. Whelan [a former US Marine jailed in Russia in 2020 on spying charges]”he said in a media briefing after the appeal decision.

How could Griner be treated in prison?

There are concerns about the treatment Griner may face in a penal colony because of her identity not only as an American citizen, but also as an openly gay black woman and high-profile basketball player.
She came out publicly about her sexual orientation at the age of 22 in 2013, early in her professional career. In the same year, she became the first openly gay athlete to be sponsored by Nike.

In Russia, the enlargement of the so-called “gay propaganda” law in 2013 makes it illegal to talk about “promoting non-traditional sexual orientation”.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas is concerned about how Griner would fare in a Russian prison.

“Anytime something could happen and we need to stay focused and united in our call to immediately return BG to his family,” he said in a Twitter post.