Russian state news agency TASS Monday announced that Brittney Griner has appealed her controversial nine-year prison sentence. Griner was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow while attempting to enter the country with vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil. Griner pled guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges on July 7. On August 4 she was convicted under Articles 228.1 and 229.1.2 of the Russian Criminal Code and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Griner’s legal team includes Maria Blagovolina of Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners (RGD) and Alexander Boykov of Moscow Legal Center. Blagovolina heads RGD’s newly-founded white-collar defense practice. In a statement, Blagovolina vowed to appeal the “absolutely unreasonable” ruling and criticized the Khimki City Court for ignoring “all the evidence of the [defense], and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.”
After Griner’s sentencing President Joe Biden called on Russia to cease “wrongfully detaining” her and vowed to “continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to secure her release and the release of fellow detainee Paul Whelan. The Moscow Times reported that US and Russian officials are considering exchanging Griner and Whelan for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Commentators, including the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and journalist LZ Granderson, have expressed special concern for Griner because of her sexuality. Griner is openly gay, and the Kremlin has cultivated an environment of “aggressive homophobic propaganda.”