US basketball player loses appeal against Russian jail term

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The American basketball star Brittney Griner has lost her appeal against a nine-year prison sentence.

The all-star centre with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury who is also a double Olympic champion, was convicted of drug possession on August 4 after the police found cannabis vape canisters in her luggage at Moscow Airport.

The Moscow region court upheld her sentence on Tuesday.

The court did, however, say that the time she will have to serve will be recalculated. Each day she spent in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, meaning she will probably serve about eight years in prison.

Griner appeared at the hearing via video link from a penal colony just outside Moscow where she is being held.

She was arrested in February at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine.

At the time, Griner was returning to Russia, where she played during the WNBA offseason.

More on Brittney Griner

She admitted having the canisters in her luggage but claimed she inadvertently packed them when rushing to catch her flight and had no criminal intent.

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Brittney Griner’s lawyers said that others convicted of similar crimes got much shorter sentences.

Her defence team presented written statements saying she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Her lawyers also argued that the sentence of nine years, close to the maximum for the offence of 10 years, was excessive, saying that other defendants in similar cases have received an average sentence of about five years, and about a third were given parole.

The US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the hearing was “another sham judicial proceeding,” adding that President Biden “is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home”.

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Before her conviction, the US State Department said Griner had been “wrongfully detained”, a charge Russia rejects.

Pressure is growing in the US for the Biden administration to bring home the basketball player.

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A court in Russia convicted US basketball star Brittney Griner of drug possession and sentenced her to nine years in prison.

In July the Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get her back, along with another American convicted in Russia of espionage, Paul Whelan.

Mr Blinken did not explain what the proposal was, but it was reported that Washington was prepared to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed the Merchant of Death who is serving 25 years in the US.

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