Photo: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP / Getty Images
A Russian court on Thursday sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison. after convicting her of knowingly bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia, a ruling US President Joe Biden called “unacceptable.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star, was arrested in mid-February when she arrived to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason.
His case was further complicated when President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, propelling US-Russian relations to a new post-Cold War low point.
Her sentence could now pave the way for a US-Russian prisoner swap that would include the 31-year-old athlete and a jailed Russian who was once a prolific arms dealer.
Griner admitted to having the vape cartridges that contained hash oil, but said he had made an “honest mistake” by inadvertently packing them.
Before the verdict, he tearfully pleaded with a Russian judge not to “end his life” with a harsh prison sentence. The court also fined her 1 million rubles, equivalent to $16,990.
Biden, under pressure to bring Americans detained in Russia home, called on Russia to release Griner immediately and said his administration would continue to work for his release.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” it said in a statement.
“It is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” he added.
Griner’s lawyers said they would appeal a verdict they said was “absolutely unreasonable.” His defense team said the court had ignored all the evidence they had presented, as well as Griner’s guilty plea.
The Russian prosecutor had mentioned that Griner would be sentenced to nine and a half years in prison if convicted of bringing illegal drugs into the country.
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