US basketball star Brittney Griner appeals nine-year Russian prison sentence

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US basketball star Brittney Griner is appealing against her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession. 

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted on 4 August after authorities found cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. 

Her lawyer Maria Blagovolina said she had filed an appeal against the prison sentence, according to Russian news agencies.

While the grounds for the appeal aren’t yet clear, Blagovolina complained after the conviction that Griner’s nine-year sentence was “excessive”. 

She claimed that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Griner admitted that she had vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage but said she had no criminal intent. 

Her defence team told the court that she had been prescribed cannabis oil to treat pain. 

Before her conviction, the US State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that the US had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to return Griner home along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

It was reported that the proposal involved a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US. 

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said talks had been conducted about an exchange of prisoners. 

Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, said: “This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” 

“These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout.”