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More tough news for WNBA star Brittney Griner in her quest to be freed from the Russian prison she calls home.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has experience dealing with dictators as he formed a friendship with North Korean President Kim Jong Un, planned to go to Russia to ask for Griner’s release.
But the United States State Department strongly encouraged him not to make the trip, ABC News reported.
“He would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing on Monday.
“We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts,” he said.
After the statement, Rodman said he would not go to Russia.
But last week he told ABC News that he had received permission and would go to assist Griner.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” he said to ABC News. “I’m trying to go this week.”
“It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” a United States official said to ABC News in response to Rodman.
But Griner does need to get out of Russia ASAP, a former Russian prisoner said.
Trevor Reed has detailed what he believes life is going to be like for WNBA star Brittney Griner in a Russian prison.
“Regardless of how you feel about Brittney Griner’s case, that sentence is clearly political. There’s no denying that,” he said to CNN.
Griner is still behind bars in Russia after being sentenced to 9 years and is in for a tough time, he said.
“Once you are convicted in Russian court, you do have a chance to go to appeals, and appeal that decision to another kangaroo court in Moscow. So after that trial, you know, depending on Brittney’s decision on whether she wants to appeal or not, she may stay in Moscow at the detention facility that she is already at until her appeals are completed. Or if she chooses not to go to appeals, they may transfer her to a forced labor camp. Considering the fact that the Russian government is considering exchanging her, they may also decide to leave her in Moscow to make it easier for her to be returned to the United States,” he said.
He said that those who are sent to the labor camps are “facing serious threats to their health” because of malnutrition and the lack of medical care.
“I am hoping that there will be an exchange that we are able to get them home, so I am hoping for the best in that,” he said of Griner and Paul Whelan.
Griner pleaded guilty to bringing vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil into Russia, which is a crime.
“She’s devastated. She is very upset and she’s honestly quite shocked, so she needs to digest what happened today,” her attorney Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, said to People.
Her attorney said that the punishment for this crime is usually not as severe as Griner’s sentence.
“So nine years, it’s pretty unusual and it contradicts the existing court practice in Russia,” she said. “That’s why we are really disappointed and very much surprised by this decision of the court.”
Her attorney said that they intend to appeal and that “as a legal team, we need to do [the] maximum to get a shorter term. We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and [an] appeal is one of those opportunities.”
The likely scenario is that Griner, and Paul Whelan, will be part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States.
She appeared in court prior to the verdict and sentencing, apologized for the shame she had brought to her family, and insisted that she made an honest mistake.
“Russian court has found Brittney Griner guilty on drug smuggling and possession charges. The widely expected verdict comes after a monthlong trial and nearly six months after the basketball star was arrested at a Russian airport with cannabis in her luggage,” NPR reported.