American WNBA star Brittney Griner recently lost her appeal of a nearly decade-long sentence for Russian drug and smuggling charges. Rev. Al Sharpton has been a constant advocate for Griner’s safe return to the United States, where she played professional women’s basketball for the Phoenix Mercury team. (AP Photos)

By Roz Edward,
New Pittsburgh Courier

In another devastating decision concerning Britney Griner’s future and freedom, Russian courts have denied the basketball star’s appeal of her nine year-sentence for drug possession and smuggling charges. The beleaguered Griner continues to hold out hope – although some reports buy a thin thread – that she will ultimately be released in a prisoner exchange.

The Biden administration blasted the Russian court’s decision to deny her appeal calling it a “sham hearing.” The administration’s Jack Sullivan released this statement:

A fan at a WNBA playoff basketball game between the Seattle Storm and the Washington Mystics holds up a sign supporting Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022 in Seattle. Griner is being held in Russia after receiving a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today. President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.

In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan. The President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his Administration has successfully done from countries around the world.

The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.” 

The Rev. Al Sharpton leaves after a news conference in Chicago, Friday, July 8, 2022. Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, joined Sharpton and WNBA players and union leader Terri Jackson at the event after Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in a Russian court. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after a Russian judge found her guilty of smuggling and storing illegal drugs.

Griner, a WNBA star for the Phoenix Mercury, traveled to Russia in February to play basketball in order to earn a higher salary. She earned $227,000 playing in the WNBA and over $1 million playing in Russia.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) shoots next to Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage, obscured, during the first half of Game 5 of a WNBA basketball playoff series Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Las Vegas. Since arriving a Moscow airport in mid-February, Griner has been detained by police after they reported finding vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Still in jail, she is awaiting trial next month on charges that could bring up to 10 years in prison.(AP Photo/Chase Stevens, File)

On Feb. 17, Griner, 31, was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki after Russian authorities found vape cartridges containing hashish oil.

Last week, Griner testified that she did not intentionally bring the oil with her and only had it for medical reasons.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Since Brittney Griner last appeared in her trial for cannabis possession, the question of her fate expanded from a tiny and cramped courtroom on Moscow’s outskirts to the highest level of Russia-US diplomacy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“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,” stated President Joe Biden in response to the verdict. “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.”

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