MOSCOW — Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner filed an appeal Monday against her nine-year prison sentence in Russia for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday.

Griner, the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced on August 4. She was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after canisters of cannabis oil were found in her luggage.

Griner played for the Yekaterinburg women’s basketball team during the WNBA offseason.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina, quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday, said an appeal had been filed, but the grounds for the appeal were not clear.

FILE – U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner looks through bars as she listens to the verdict while standing in a cage in a courtroom in Khimki, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Yevgenia Navazhenina/Pool photo via AP, file

After the conviction, Blagovolina and the second lawyer, Alexander Boykau, said that the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases, the defendants received an average of about five years in prison, with about a third of them being released on parole.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she packed them unintentionally in a hurry and had no criminal intent. Her defense team submitted written statements that she was prescribed cannabis for pain relief.

Before her conviction, the US State Department declared Griner “wrongfully detained.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing in July that the US had made a “substantial offer” to bring Griner home along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken did not elaborate, but the Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Washington had offered the release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States and was once nicknamed the “Death Dealer.”

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said that negotiations on the exchange were underway.

“This rather sensitive issue of the exchange of convicted citizens of Russia and the USA is being discussed through the channels determined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the North American Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the TASS state agency. “These persons are indeed being discussed. The Russian side has been seeking the release of Viktor Bout for a long time. The details should be left to the professionals, based on the principle of “do no harm”.

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