Brittney Griners defense team files appeal to Russian verdict

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A couple of weeks ago, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was convicted and sentenced to nine years in Russian jail for drug-smuggling after a six-month detention and a one-month trial. At the time, her lawyers said they would appeal, that the court ignored evidence, and that the average jail time for this is usually five years. Her legal team has now filed an appeal against the court’s verdict. One of Brittney’s attorney’s noted that the verdict appeal and potential prisoner swap operate separately and shouldn’t affect each other as the appeal is legal and the potential swap is diplomatic.

Brittney Griner’s legal team has filed an appeal against a Russian court’s verdict sentencing the WNBA star to nine years in prison for smuggling drugs into Russia, Griner’s lawyer told CNN on Monday, days after the Russian government confirmed for the first time discussions about a potential prisoner swap involving a convicted Russian arms dealer.

The US State Department maintains Griner is wrongfully detained, and her case has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. US officials have offered a potential prisoner swap to try to bring her home safely.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s name has been mentioned in bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington over a prisoner swap involving Griner and American Paul Whelan, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department director, Alexander Darchiev, told Russian state media TASS on Saturday.

“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. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle,” Darchiev said in response to a request for comment on US news reports that US officials had sent a proposal to Moscow on swapping Bout for Griner and Whelan, TASS reported.

The US government “continues to urge Russia to release wrongful detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” a US State Department spokesperson said Monday. “As Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken said, ‘There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release.’”

“We will not go into detail of what we proposed to the Russians,” the spokesperson added.

The verdict appeal and potential prisoner swap conversations operate independently, said Griner attorney Alexander Boykov of Moscow Legal Center.

“It should not affect them. This is a part of legal process. Prisoner talks come through diplomatic channels. Since the appeal could be withdrawn any time before the actual hearing, there’s no reason for Russian government to wait,” he said.

[From CNN]

Russian government spokespeople were previously making vague and ominous comments saying the US shouldn’t be discussing this case or negotiating in the press, but Russia recently confirmed for the first time that prisoner swap discussions are, in fact, happening. We already knew that, but now they’re confirming it as well. Other than the news that Russia also confirmed and Brittney’s attorney’s filed an appeal, the US State Department made a statement Monday that there is a substantial proposal on the table and they’re continuing to urge Russia to release Brittney and Paul Whelan. The US won’t go into detail other than to say it’s substantial. It seems like everything is riding on the prisoner swap and the appeal is unlikely to do much. But I think the appeal does serve the purpose of boosting morale and shows that Brittney’s attorneys are trying their best for her and going through every legal channel they have at their disposal. Hopefully Russia agrees to whatever deal the US has put on the table and Brittney and Paul are able to get home soon.

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