Concerns for Brittney Griner mount as Russian appeal hearing nears

Brittney Griner sits inside a defendants’ cage at her trial in a Russian court. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner spent her 32nd birthday in a Moscow jail as she awaits her upcoming appeal hearing.

Griner has been detained for eight months after being arrested on Feb. 17 when Russian police officers claimed they found vape canisters and cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow Airport.

Since her arrest, the U.S. State Department has declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.”

Griner was in Russia to play basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

She was convicted on Aug. 4 after a Russian court found her guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. The Phoenix Mercury star now awaits the appeal hearing, set for Oct. 25. The Moscow region court says it will hear her appeal, but according to experts, the only hope for Griner is that the panel could slightly reduce her sentence.

Her attorney, Maria Blagovolina, told ESPN on Wednesday that she cannot speculate on the potential outcomes of the hearing but did outline a timeline. Blagovolina said it will be “straightforward,” lasting a couple of hours, with a ruling given quickly at the end. New arguments and evidence are not permitted.

Griner will have an opportunity to address the judges at the conclusion of the hearing, doing so through a video call from the jail where she is being held.

Concerns among Griner’s family and U.S. officials have heightened as the hearing approaches. Griner was sentenced to a prison camp, where harsh conditions and abuse from staff and other inmates are likely. Her lawyers are fighting to overturn the nine-year sentence.

Griner, according to ESPN, is also aware that Russia is unlikely to respond to the United States’ offer for a prisoner swap until after the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8 to avoid giving President Joe Biden a political victory. U.S. officials offered to hand over at least one Russian prisoner for Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia on spying charges since December 2018.