On Monday, Griner’s legal defense team stated that they officially appealed her sentence, as prisoner exchange negotiations continue.
Earlier this month, the two-time Olympian was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony and $16,400 fine by a Russian judge on drug smuggling charges. Russian officials detained Griner in a Moscow airport in February for having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. The WNBA player routinely traveled to Russia to play in the country, as a means to supplement her income.
Griner has been in Russian custody since February, which her legal team, as well as the Biden Administration, have stated that she has been wrongfully detained. One of Griner’s lawyers, Aleksandr Boikov, stated in her appeal that “serious procedural violations during detention, extraction of physical evidence, arrest and investigation” and that the verdict given did “not correspond to the current legal practice of Russian courts”.
A day after the verdict was given, negotiation talks were underway between the United States and Russia. While the US government has concerns that Griner is being used as a political pawn, the Biden Administration has mentioned exchanging Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Whelan was imprisoned in Russia for espionage charges in 2018 and Bout was charged in the U.S. in 2012 on conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens, U.S. government officials, and giving support to a terrorist organization.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our Presidents. These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout”, stated Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department director Alexander Darchiev for TASS.
And while these talks continue, Griner is still detained with no access to the outside world beyond her prison cell.