US basketball star Griner, who faces jail time in Russia, sends thanks for his support

MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) – American WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner, whose appeal against a Russian jail sentence is due to be heard next week, sent a message of thanks to her supporters on Tuesday, the day of her 32nd birthday.

The double Olympic gold medalist was arrested on February 17 at a Moscow airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, and was sentenced on August 4 to nine years in a penal colony for trafficking drug. His appeal is to be heard next Tuesday.

“All the support and love really helps me,” said Griner, quoted by her lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, who spent several hours with her in the Moscow remand center where she is being held.

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Griner pleaded guilty at her trial, but said she made an “honest faith error” and had no intention of breaking the law. Cannabis is illegal in Russia for medicinal and recreational purposes.

“Today is of course a tough day for Brittney,” said Blagovolina, who is representing Griner in court.

“Not only is it her birthday in jail away from her family, teammates and friends, but she’s very stressed ahead of the appeal hearing on October 25.”

Washington claims Griner was wrongfully detained and offered to trade her for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. He said last week he had had no consular access to her since August.

Moscow has also hinted that it is open to a prisoner swap.

Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who visited Moscow in September, said he believed Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan could both be freed by the end of the year. .

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Reporting by Filipp Lebedev; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Angus MacSwan

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