OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A Russian appeals court denied American basketball player Brittney Griner’s appeal of the nine-and-a-half-year sentence she received for having vape pens with cannabis. Griner is set to serve in a penal colony unless the U.S. government can negotiate a deal for her release.
Former Russian Prisoner and American citizen Trevor Reed recently detailed what he believes life is going to be like for 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. Once you are convicted in a 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,” Reed 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.
Now, a report from Bloomberg notes that the pressure is on President Joe Biden to potentially get Griner back to the United States. Some reports suggest it’s likely that Griner, and possibly Paul Whelan, will be traded for one or more Russians currently in United States custody.
“Griner’s case, in which the US has proposed trading away notorious Russian gun-runner Victor Bout, measures the limits of that new approach. In interviews, US officials emphasized the rarity and the distastefulness of such decisions. They rejected any equivalence between innocent Americans held by hostile governments and those given a fair trial in the US but said the priority has to be securing the freedom and safety of American citizens,” Bloomberg reported.
“But Biden’s approach has subjected the administration to criticism from lawmakers such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida,” the report added. “Biden also faces a new trend that has reshaped the conversation around prisoners held overseas: Americans are now more likely to be detained by hostile governments rather than terrorists, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be identified discussing delicate hostage negotiations and by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for detained Americans.”
Griner’s lawyers said they are weighing their options about possibly appealing to higher Russian courts. Her lawyers also revealed that she’s “terrified” for her future.
Griner is “increasingly anxious” about her prospects of release from a sentence in a Russian prison. Griner’s Russian lawyer revealed publicly that the WNBA player, who is behind bars on drug possession charges, is struggling mentally and does not think she has a future of any kind.
“She has not been in as good condition as I could sometimes find her in,” Alexandr D. Boykov said in an interview. “She is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home. She is very worried about what the price of that [a prisoner exchange] will be, and she is afraid that she will have to serve the whole sentence here in Russia.”
Russia has confirmed that it is in talks to swap Griner for Viktor Bout, the notorious “Merchant of Death” arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the United States since 2010.
Bout, who some have characterized as one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, was arrested in Thailand at the request of U.S. officials in 2008.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration, once called Bout “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers” in history.