Brittney Griner’s last hope of earning her freedom through the Russian legal system has fallen through.
A panel of Russian judges rejected the WNBA superstar’s appeal of her nine-year sentence Tuesday, all but guaranteeing that she’ll serve time for her drug smuggling conviction in one of the country’s infamous penal colonies. Now, Griner’s only remaining path back home is via a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia.
With concerns for Griner’s safety growing each day, her agent, Wasserman’s Lindsay Colas, pleaded with the government to use “all available tools to secure the safe return of BG and all Americans – with urgency.”
“Today’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, appeal outcome further validates the fact that she is being held hostage and is being used as a political pawn,” Colas said in a statement provided to Insider. “Brittney Griner is being held by Russia simply because she is an American.”
“We call on all people, fellow Americans, along with the global sports community, to unite in their support for BG and President Biden’s efforts to do what is necessary to rescue her,” she added.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star was first arrested in February, when agents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She’s been held at a detention center near the capital city ever since, but now that her appeal has been denied, she’s likely to face harsher living conditions in whichever facility she’s moved to.
Abuse, disease, and neglect run rampant in many of Russia’s penal colonies, and Griner has a target on her back as an American national and a famous individual. Additionally, those close to the two-time Olympic gold medalist — including her wife, Cherelle — have begun to express concerns about her declining mental fortitude in recent weeks.
For all of those reasons, plus several recent near-death experiences of other wrongfully detained Americans, Colas implored the government to act swiftly.
“The fire at Evin prison in Iran last week that almost killed American prisoner Emad Shargi, and Matthew Heath’s attempt to take his life in June while held in Venezuela, prove that time is an illusion,” Colas said. “We do not have time.”
“At any moment something might happen, and we must remain focused and unified in our call to return BG to her family immediately,” she added.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he and White House staffers have been “in constant contact with Russian authorities” in an effort to reach a deal to bring the basketball superstar back stateside. Though the US has reportedly offered to swap notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the return of Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, American government officials have maintained that they have yet to receive a serious counteroffer out of Moscow.
“We’ve not been meeting with much positive response,” Biden said Tuesday. “But we’re not stopping.”