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WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence was upheld on Tuesday during a Moscow regional court hearing.
The Phoenix Mercury center and her legal team had hoped for an acquittal or reduction in the sentence that they believed was too severe and politically motivated.
“No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law,” Alexander Boykov, one of Griner’s lawyers, said according to Reuters.
He added, “if the court wants to punish her, [it should] give her a new, ‘fair’ verdict and mitigate the punishment. The severity and cruelty of the sentence applied to Griner shocks people around the world.”
Griner’s arrest occurred just four days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. She has now been held for eight months. The 6-foot, 9-inch center was sentenced in August, receiving just under the ten-year maximum sentence.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said ahead of her verdict. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
A growing number of Americans have called for the Biden administration to do more to secure Griner’s release. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving took to the microphone at midcourt before his team’s season opener to call on President Joe Biden to bring Griner home.
“I appreciate us being able to share this floor together, all of us as brothers. But the big picture that’s going on in the world is free our sister, Brittney Griner. Please,” Irving shared with the home crowd.
“POTUS, do your job. Everybody do your job. Please bring our sister home. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs to the best of our ability if we didn’t stand for what we believe in,” he added.
Many across the WNBA also expressed support for Griner last Tuesday on her 32nd birthday.
“Happy Birthday Brittney Griner, we will not forget about you and we will not stop fighting for you. The W won’t be the same until you’re home,” the league’s Twitter account posted.
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 18, 2022
The Biden administration had previously attempted a prisoner swap involving “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and American Paul Whelan. The attempts have so far proven unsuccessful.
“They have not responded to our offer. We have made a serious offer to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back home. The Russians have not responded to that offer. But that doesn’t mean that — that we’re not still in negotiations and we’re not still trying,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last month.