OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Former Russian Prisoner and American citizen 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 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 on Thursday, 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.
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.
The prosecutor in the case asked the judge to impose a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for the basketball star who pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in Russia, Reuters reported.
Her attorney argued that there are other big-name athletes who use cannabis as a defense for her client.
“In sprinting there is Usain Bolt, in Formula 1 – Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball there is Brittney Griner,” her attorney Maria Blagovolina said.
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, as recommended by her attorneys, they said to ABC News.
“Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people,” they said. “Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance, and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence.”
Her attorney said that after the trial a trade of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” for Griner was “legally possible.”
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was stunned by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken talking about the possible trade to the media and warned that Russia would not be bullied.
“We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discreet,” he said. “Megaphone diplomacy and the public exchange of opinions will not lead to results.”
The attorney for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, Steve Zissou, said in an interview with CNN that he is “confident” that the trade is going to happen to judge by the information he has gotten from “the Russian side, as opposed to the American side.”