The ruling, though disheartening for Griner and her supporters, was largely expected, as Russian courts rarely overturn verdicts. Prior to the appeal, Griner’s lawyers said in a statement that she did not expect “any miracles to happen,” according to the New York Times.
Though the court upheld Griner’s sentence, it did decide to recalculate her time served. Though her original sentence was nine years, the court decided that her pre-trial detention should be taken into account, with every day she served pre-trial equaling 1.5 days in prison. That brings Griner’s overall prison sentence down to about eight years.
In a statement, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, decried the “disappointing, yet unsurprising” ruling. She noted that Griner’s sentence is “regarded as harsh and extreme by Russian legal standards” and that she is “being held hostage and is being used as a political pawn… simply because she is American.”
“We call on all people, fellow Americans, along with the global sports community, to unite in their support for BG and President Biden’s efforts to do what is necessary to rescue her,” Colas continued. “We must support the use of all available tools to secure the safe return of BG and all Americans — with urgency.”
Colas also underlined the urgency of Griner’s case by highlighting the stories of other Americans who are imprisoned abroad: “The fire at Evin prison in Iran last week that almost killed American prisoner Emad Shargi, and Matthew Heath’s attempt to take his life in June while held in Venezuela, prove that time is an illusion. We do not have time. At any moment something might happen, and we must remain focused and unified in our call to return BG to her family immediately.”
Griner — who is serving her sentence at a penal colony outside of Moscow — will have to serve out the entirety of her sentence unless the United States can negotiate her release. Back in July, the State Department offered Russia a swap deal involving another imprisoned American, U.S. Marine Corps vet Paul Whelan, in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Negotiations, however, have not moved forward much.
In August, Griner was found guilty of smuggling vape cartridges with cannabis oil into Russia. The judge sentenced the WNBA player to nine years in prison and fined her 1 million rubles, or about $16,300. After the weeks-long trial ended earlier this summer, President Joe Biden released a statement demanding Griner’s release: “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
The initial verdict occurred during heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia amid the Ukraine invasion. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, discussed a possible prisoner exchange in July. The State Department offered Russia a deal involving the release of Griner and fellow imprisoned American, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former security executive Paul Whelan. A source told The New York Times that the U.S. was willing to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the jailed Americans.
Earlier this month, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said in a televised interview that Griner was at her “absolute weakest moment in life right now.” Cherelle also expressed concern that if Griner lost her appeal, she would be sent to a Russian labor camp.
Griner recently marked her 32nd birthday while in prison outside Moscow. In a statement issued ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, her legal team said that the WNBA star acknowledged that public pressure on Washington would have a pivotal role in her possible release, according to NPR.
“Brittney is [a] very strong person and has a champion’s character,” said Griner’s lawyers. The statement also included a message from Griner, who addressed supporters: “Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me.”
This story was updated 10/25/22 at 3:36 p.m. ET with a statement from Griner’s agent.