A Russian court sentenced American basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on Thursday after finding her guilty of drug smuggling and possession. The basketball player’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the “nonsensical” sentence. US President Joe Biden also reacted to it, calling it unacceptable.
The court “found the defendant guilty of smuggling and possession of a significant amount of narcotics,” said Judge Anna Sotnikova, who also sentenced thirty-one-year-old Griner to pay a fine of one million rubles (about €16,000).
On Thursday, the prosecutor’s office demanded a prison sentence of 9.5 years, Griner risked a maximum of ten years. Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolinová, has asked the court to acquit her or consider a lighter sentence if found guilty. “I made a mistake that I sincerely regret and I hope you will not end my life with your decision. I want the court to understand that it was an unintentional mistake that arose under stress and during the recovery of the disease Covid-19.” said Grinerová, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February, when cartridges containing hemp oil were found in her luggage.
The two-time Olympic champion and WNBA champion admitted in court last week that she had cannabis oil cartridges, but said she had no criminal intentions and claimed their presence was due to hasty packaging. In the Russian legal system, an admission of guilt does not automatically end the process.
Griner’s trial has recently been accelerated as the US and Russia also discussed a possible prisoner exchange that the 31-year-old basketball player could be involved in. Along with her, the US tried to exchange prisoner accused of espionage Paul Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor But, who has been detained in the US for more than a decade.
“I ask the court to find Griner guilty and sentence her to nine years and six months in prison,” said prosecutor Nikolay Vlasenko, asking for a sentence just below the possible maximum of 10 years. He said Griner “She deliberately went through the green corridor at customs and stated that she had nothing to declare to hide the substance.”
Griner entered the courtroom in handcuffs, accompanied by several law enforcement officers and a police dog. Before the hearing began, she stood in the suspect’s area and held up a photograph. She insists on it with her teammates from the Russian club UMMC Yekaterinburg, for which she plays. Her lawyer Maria Blagovolin said in court that Griner was “an icon for many people” and… “she was brave enough to admit her guilt.” She added that Griner only brought into the country slightly more than the permitted amount of a banned substance. The basketball player stated in previous hearings that she has permission from an American doctor to use medical marijuana to relieve pain after numerous injuries: “from the spine to the cartilage”.
The verdict was sharply criticized by US President Biden, who in a written statement said it was unacceptable and called for Griner’s release. “Russia is wrongly holding Brittney,” dpa quoted him as saying. “I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” he said, adding that his government would work “relentlessly” to get her and Whelan back home.
Conviction and severe punishment was “unjustified, unfortunate but not unexpected”WNBA and NBA overseas basketball commissioners Cathy Engelbert and Adam Silver said in a joint statement. “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return to the United States has not wavered, and we hope we get closer.” they said.