Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison following her arrest in the country on charges of illegal drug possession in February. The WNBA player was also ordered to pay a $16,400 fine, according to CNN. In a written statement released after the ruling, Griner’s attorneys called the court’s decision “absolutely unreasonable” and vowed to continue fighting for the athlete’s freedom.
“This contradicts existing legal practice,” write lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov. “Considering the level of substance (not to mention the flaws in the report) and the plea, the verdict is grossly inadequate. We will definitely be appealing.”
Griner’s conviction may have come as a shock to some, as it was recently revealed that the United States government had proposed a deal to secure Griner’s release. According to NBC, the Biden administration made a “substantial” offer that would see Griner released along with Paul Whelan in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. Now a legal expert is putting forward an alarming theory about the Phoenix Mercury star’s sentencing.
Brittney Griner verdict could give Russia ‘greater influence’
News of an impending deal with Russia to release Brittney Griner brought an unfortunate snag. According to ESPN, the exchange — which could secure Griner’s release — would likely only happen after her conviction. Now that the athlete has been granted the nine-year decision, a legal expert says the move may have been strategic.
“It absolutely gives the Russians more clout,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Nicki Swift exclusively. “The longer sentence puts more pressure on the Biden administration, and we’ve seen that the Russians have no problem waiting out the Secretary of State.” Rahmani, who is currently president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, explains that this type of Americans generally criticize the prisoner exchange because it can lead to more hostage takings. Instead, “Russia is trying to give Griner near the maximum penalty to put pressure on Biden and the State Department to push the trade forward,” Rahmani noted. “But according to all reports, the Americans made the proposal and, to my knowledge, Russia has not yet acted on it.”
Rahmani believes Russia may have waited until Griner was convicted “to have a bigger impact”. Meanwhile, Griner’s teammates and fans have taken to social media to share their support for the athlete. Phoenix Mercury player Brianna Turner wrote“Thinking of BG and how much light she has relentlessly brought to everyone around her.” A fan tweeted“Brittney Griner didn’t deserve this.”
Discussions about a prisoner swap have increased since Brittney Griner’s conviction
A day after Brittney Griner’s sentencing, the Russian government announced its willingness to discuss a prisoner swap in more detail with US officials.
According to CBS News, despite the animosity between the two nations, there seemed to be a potential commonality in the swap that the two nations could agree on — though the commonality has yet to be publicly announced. During a recent press conference, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian government is “ready to discuss this issue.” However, talks on the exchange are only between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden, Russian officials said. “There is a special channel set up by the presidents that still works despite some public statements,” Lavrov said.
Following Russia’s expressed willingness to trade, the United States has reportedly contacted Lavrov to discuss the country’s participation in further talks – with President Biden saying he is “hopeful” of Griner’s return, according to Reuters. Although both nations have begun communicating about Griner’s release, there is no word on how those talks will affect Griner until a final decision is made. Until then, Griner will continue to serve her sentence.
What is Brittney Griner’s life like in Russian prison?
Until US-Russia prisoner swap talks with Brittney Griner progress further, Griner will continue her stay in a Russian penal colony.
The penal colony to which Griner was sentenced consists of various units in which 40 to 60 women live together per colony. But with 35 different penal colonies across Russia, what happens and how prisoners are treated depends on the leaders of each colony. Sources close to Griner’s situation would not reveal which colony Griner is in or how forgiving her colony is, according to the outlet. But despite the situation, there is a small ray of hope for Griner. While living in the colonies, one day actually counts as two days, reducing her overall sentence.
“She will likely stay there for the duration of her appeal, which could take up to three months if she isn’t pardoned and exchanged first,” Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian branch of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, told People. “But if her appeal fails, maybe she’ll be sent to another colony.” While prisoners have a set amount of time each day to do whatever they want, it’s possible for Griner that the time could only lead to more thought about the future leads. As Griner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, told People, the WNBA star “seems pretty happy to know she hasn’t been forgotten … But she’s pretty realistic about what’s going on.”