Brittney Griner appeal to be heard by Russian court this month

A graphic depicting Brittney Griner as she played for the WNBA team Phoenix Mercury and another image of her appearing before a Russia court

Brittney Griner will have her appeal against a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession heard by a Russian court.

Griner, an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medallist, was convicted in Russia on 4 August after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.  

She was sentenced to nine years in prison and given a fine of one million rubles.

The Moscow region court said it will hear her appeal on 25 October, coming amid increasing pressure on the US to secure Griner’s release.

Griner’s February arrest came as she was set to travel back to the US after playing in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason. It was just days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

The Phoenix Mercury player pleaded guilty to a lower Russian court in July. She said she had inadvertently packed the cartridges in haste and that she had no criminal intent. 

Griner had already spent six months in a Russian jail before her trial, and her legal team said that the nine-year sentence was excessive. 

They pointed out that defendants in similar cases received an average sentence of about five years with about a third being granted parole, the Associated Press reported.

Brittney Griner leaves the courtroom before the Russian court's final decision

Lawyers for Brittney Griner said the process of appealing her sentence in Russia could take months. (Getty)

She has been described as a political prisoner, with her incarceration coming amid ever-mounting sanctions on Russia from the US and other nations over its invasion of Ukraine.

Brittney Griner’s lawyers filed an appeal on 15 August. Maria Blagovolina, an attorney for the WNBA star, told People that Griner was “stressed” and “very much concerned with the future”. 

Another of Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boykov, said the appeal process will take several months as “it’s not very fast”. 

Brittney Griner told Biden she was ‘terrified’ in Russia

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure to bring Griner home, and Griner sent a letter to president Joe Biden in July admitting that she’s “terrified” she might be detained in Russia “forever”. 

Biden called on Russia to release Griner “immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates” after her sentence was announced in August. 

The White House said it has held talks with Moscow to get Griner and fellow American prisoner Paul Whelan, who is serving 16 years for alleged espionage, returned to the US. 

The president met with Whelan’s family and Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, to discuss the sustained – but so far unsuccessful efforts – by his administration to secure the Americans’ release.

Cherelle wrote on Instagram that it was an “honour to speak” with Biden directly about the “Brittney we know and love”. She described feeling “every minute of the gruelling seven months without her”, and she looked forward “to the day [her] wife is back home”. 

Brittney Griner holds photos inside a defendants' cage before a Russian court hearing

Brittney Griner’s wife said she’s felt “every minute of the gruelling seven months” without the WNBA star. (Getty)

In the wake of Griner’s conviction, WNBA players are skipping playing in Russia this winter, where many of them choose to play during the offseason due to high pay rates. 

Terri Jackson, the executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, believed that Griner wouldn’t have had to play in Russia if the “pay deals were different” in the WNBA and if “investors were actively seeking promoters”.