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Tuesday, August 16, 2022 – The defense lawyers for jailed U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to serve nine years in a Russian penal colony on drug smuggling charges, say they have filed an appeal against her sentence.

Griner, a centre for the Phoenix Mercury who had been playing in Yekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.

She was convicted on August 4, about six months after she was arrested in Russia for carrying vaping materials containing hashish oil in her luggage. Griner has admitted to carrying the materials but said she had no criminal intent.

The United States says the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who had played in Russia for the past several years, was wrongfully detained.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina said on Monday the appeal had been filed, but declined to give details. Alexander Boykov, a lawyer at Moscow Legal Centre who represented Griner in court, told Reuters the appeal would be mainly based on alleged violations in the course of the investigation.

Griner’s defence team argued in court that some of her case files had been drawn up without being translated for her into English. It was not clear how soon an appeal could be heard.

There has been widespread speculation that Griner, along with Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted in Russia on espionage charges, could be released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer being held in the U.S.

Late last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a telephone conversation with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a U.S. proposal to gain Griner and Whelan’s release. Russia denies Griner’s arrest and conviction are politically motivated amid tension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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