(Photo Credits: Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
A Russian court convicted WNBA star Brittney Griner of drug possession and smuggling on Thursday and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Griner—who went to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason—was reportedly detained by Russian customs on February 17, 2022. She was later arrested for carrying cartridges containing less than a gram of hashish oil through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Apart from being sentenced to imprisonment, Judge Anna Sotnikova, the presiding judge who delivered the sentence, also fined Griner 1 million rubles (around $16,500). The judge said the court “took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities” in addition to the time that Griner had already spent in detention.
Speaking in the Khimki city courthouse prior to her sentencing, Griner asked for leniency. She said, “I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here.” She added, “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
Further, she said, “I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.”
Griner’s defense team has 10 days to appeal. Her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, released a written statement that reads:
We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice. Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden released a statement on the sentencing of Brittney Griner. It reads:
Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.
Speaking to reporters in Cambodia on Friday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is “ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents,” as reported by RIA Novosti.
Lavrov reportedly added, “There is a specified channel that has been agreed upon by [Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden], and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in effect.”
On the other hand, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the US will “pursue talks with Russia.” He said, “We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that. And we’ll be pursuing that.”
Brittney Griner is considered the best offensive player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She has been named as one of the best 25 players in the history of WNBA in 2021 not to mention she is a two-time gold Olympic medalist (2016 and 2021 respectively).
Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has been actively campaigning and calling for the WNBA player’s release since her arrest.