Brittney Griner ‘can hardly talk’ and is ‘very stressed’ as she looks to appeal nine-year sentence in ‘friendly concentration camp’ penal colony for smuggling cannabis vape into Russia
- The lawyer for WNBA player Brittney Griner has said she ‘can hardly talk’
- Griner was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony in Russia on Thursday
- Griner was arrested at Moscow Airport in February for bringing a cannabis vape pen into the country
- White House has been unable to negotiate a prisoner swap to bring Griner home
- There is speculation she will be swapped with arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the ‘merchant of death’
- President Biden immediately denounced the sentence and said Russia ‘wrongfully detained’ her
Brittney Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina has said her client, the WNBA star, is ‘very upset’ and can ‘hardly talk’ following Thursday’s sentence in which she was given nine years in a penal colony.
‘She is very upset, very stressed,’ Blagovolina said to reporters. ‘She can hardly talk, honestly. So it’s a difficult time for her.’
‘When we saw Brittney, I think it was Tuesday, we told her, ‘see you on Thursday’. And she said, ‘see you on doomsday’ so it looks like she was right,’ Blagovolina said.
Basketball player Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants’ cage before the court’s verdict in Khimki City court in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia on Thursday
Brittney Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina has said her client, the WNBA star is ‘very upset’ and can ‘hardly talk’ following Thursday’s sentence in which she was given nine years in a penal colony
‘She is very upset, very stressed,’ Blagovolina, right, said to reporters. ‘She can hardly talk, honestly. So it’s a difficult time for her.’
Griner’s defense attorneys are planning to appeal the verdict and she now had 10 days in which to do so, with a hearing expected next week.
Out of the 692 prisons in Russia, 684 are penal colonies which are described as a ‘settlement established for punishing criminals by forced labor and isolation from society.’
Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist is currently serving his sentence in a penal colony which he has described as a ‘friendly concentration camp,’ with cameras ‘everywhere.’
On Thursday night, the head coach of Griner’s WNBA team said the nine-year sentence handed out to its star player was devastating — even though it was no surprise.
Russian prosecutors requested that US basketball star Brittney Griner be sentenced to nine and a half years on drug smuggling charges
Griner sits inside a defendant’s cage before the court’s verdict in Khimki City court in Khimki outside Moscow
‘We knew this was coming, we’ve been prepared for it,’ said Vanessa Nygaard, Phoenix Mercury’s head coach, noting the minuscule acquittal rates in Russian courts where Griner was convicted of smuggling drugs into the country.
‘We know we weren’t hanging our hopes on the Russian justice system.
‘But we were literally getting ready to come out for shoot around today when this was going on,’ she said. ‘Players were watching it.’
She said it made it hard to concentrate on Thursday night’s WNBA game against the Connecticut Sun.
‘The emotions have escalated during the day,’ Nygaard said. ‘We’re going to go out and play this game, but, like, how can we have our focus on this game? It’s such an emotional day for us.’
Not for the first time, Nygaard suggested that if Griner wasn’t a black, gay woman she wouldn’t still be wrongfully detained in Russia.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player Brittney Griner is escorted to hear the court’s verdict in Khimki City court
The Khimki City Court has sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after finding her guilty on charges of drug smuggling
Griner is pictured being escorted to the courtroom to hear the court’s final decision in Khimki outside Moscow
‘We know that Tom Brady wouldn’t be in Russia, so the comparison that way is tough to see,’ Nygaard said, invoking superstar NFL quarterback Tom Brady.
But Nygaard praised the ‘tremendous’ efforts of US President Joe Biden and his administration in seeking Griner’s release and that of other Americans deemed wrongfully detained in Russia.
‘What I do know is our government has really put itself behind BG and all other Americans — we’re learning a lot more about international wrongly detained Americans than we ever have,’ she said.
‘I know there are many other families experiencing this feeling, too.’
Attention is now turning to the prospect of a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia that could bring her home.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken went public with that possibility last week, revealing in an unusual announcement that the U.S. had made a ‘substantial proposal’ aimed at securing the release of Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan.
Such a deal – assuming one can be reached with the Russians – is Griner’s best chance of being freed early.
President Biden immediately denounced the sentence and claimed Russia had ‘wrongfully’ detained her
Griner with her wife Cherelle, who has been begging for White House help for months
Though the guilty verdict was seen as a foregone conclusion, the imposition of a sentence her lawyers decried as far longer than average could give the U.S. extra impetus to strike a deal palatable to Russia as soon as possible. And the formal end of the court case could be the opening both sides need to forge a diplomatic resolution, too.
Blinken did not specify the terms other than to describe the offer as substantial and something that he intended to discuss with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
A person familiar with the situation said that the U.S. offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons to Colombia’s former FARC guerrilla army.
At the time of his conviction, the group was classified by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization, though that designation was lifted last year.
The officials did wind up speaking by phone last Friday, the highest-level known contact between the two sides since Russia invaded Ukraine.
They are also in Cambodia for meetings involving foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries.
There was speculation Griner would be freed as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in the US in 2010