A Russian court rejected an appeal Tuesday to release Brittney Griner, an American WNBA star who was served a nine-year prison sentence for carrying a small amount of hash oil when she arrived in the country earlier this year.
The Houston native who turned 32 behind bars last week has been detained since February. The denied appeal means she may be transferred to a maximum security prison colony until 2031.
“We need to discuss this with our client,” her legal team said in a statement. “We generally think that we must use all the available legal tools, especially given the harsh and unprecedented nature of her sentence.”
High courts in Russia are not known to overturn verdicts, and with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – which has turned an already unstable relationship with the United States sour – it will be at the hands of Russian and American diplomats to negotiate terms for her release.
In wake of the court’s ruling, President Biden said “We are in constant contact with the Russian authorities to get Brittney and others out, and so far we have not been meeting with much positive response. But we’re not stopping.”
On the day of the ruling, decided by a three-judge appeals panel Tuesday, Griner appeared in court while Russian and Ukrainian forces were fighting over territories in the region. The ruling comes at an uncertain time amidst concerns that Russia is planning to detonate “explosives laced with radioactive material and blaming Ukraine,” according to the New York Times.
“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,” Jake Sullivan, the American national security adviser, said in a statement.
Griner pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs in the country and apologized for what she said was an inadvertent offense.
“I did not intend to do this,” she said while detained in a Russian jail cell, “but I understand the charges against me, and I just hope that that is also taken into account.”
After the ruling, she said, “I’ve been here almost eight months and people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.”