A Moscow court rejected Brittney Griner‘s appeal of her nine-year sentence on drug charges Tuesday, a completely anticipated result in a trial that U.S. and international officials have called an illegitimate proceeding.
U.S. officials have said they believe Russia will eventually send the WNBA star home in a prisoner swap but have expressed frustration over what they say is Russia’s failure to respond to the “significant” offer the United States made in June.
“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Griner took part in the Moscow Regional Court hearing via videoconference.
In the ruling, the court stated that the time Griner will have to serve in prison will be recalculated with her time in pretrial detention taken into account, meaning Griner will serve about eight years in prison.
The result was “not what we expected,” Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said via a statement. “The verdict contains numerous defects and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration. We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts to the existing court practice.”
“This appeal is further verification that BG is not just wrongfully detained,” the WNBA Players Association said in a statement. “She is very clearly a hostage.”
The attorneys noted that they needed to discuss any further appeal with Griner but said, “we generally think that we must use all the available legal tools.”
Several officials have said in recent weeks that they believe Russia will not engage seriously in negotiations until after the U.S. midterm elections Nov. 8, not wanting to give the Biden administration a political victory.
For Griner, who has been held for more than eight months, her immediate concern is how quickly she will be transferred to one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies. She was sentenced to serve out her term in one but has remained in a relatively safer Moscow jail during appeal.
Blagovolina told ESPN last week that it can take weeks or months for a prisoner to be transferred; there is no timetable prescribed by law. Legal experts say Griner is at the whim and mercy of the Russian system, as she has been all along.
Griner was arrested Feb. 17 while trying to enter Russia to join her club team in Ekaterinburg. Customs officials found vape cartridges containing hashish oil, and she pleaded guilty in July, telling the court she had packed them inadvertently.
U.S. officials declared her to be wrongfully detained in May and began seeking a prisoner swap with Russia for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia since December 2018.
Officials said the State Department offered to trade Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the United States. Bout has been in U.S. custody since 2008. But officials have said Russia has not made a serious counteroffer and has requested the return of a man the United States doesn’t have in custody, Vadim Krasikov, who is currently in a German prison on a murder conviction.