The WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February with vaping cans of cannabis oil in her luggage.
A Russian court found the American basketball star Brittney Griner drug smuggling, and was sentenced to nine years in prison in a case that reached the highest level of US-Russian diplomatic relations.
The court “declared the defendant guilty” of smuggling and possession of “a large amount of narcotics,” judge Anna Sotnikova told a court in the town of Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow.
The court also fined her one million rubles ($16,300).
US President Joe Biden was quick to condemn the ruling, calling it “unacceptable” and extending calls for the player’s release.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every avenue possible to get Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he said, referring to another American being detained. in Russia for espionage.
Sotnikova said on Thursday that Griner committed the crime “intentionally”. She testified in the trial that it was a mistake.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 when she entered the country with the vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
She called it an “honest mistake” speaking in the courtroom on Thursday before sentencing.
“I never intended to hurt anyone, I never intended to endanger the Russian people, I never intended to violate Russian law,” Griner said through a translator. while standing in a metal cage reserved for defendants in a Russian courtroom.
She apologized to her family, teammates and life partner.
She had pleaded guilty when her trial began in July, and said she did not knowingly bring the boxes into Russia.
Marijuana is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Attention will now turn to the high possibility of a prisoner swap.
In July, the US State Department designated Griner as “wrongfully detained”, moving her case under the supervision of the presidential special envoy for hostage affairs, who led the negotiations. about government hostages.
Then, last week, in an unusual move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal whereby Griner and Whelan would be set free.
Lavrov-Blinken’s phone call marked the highest-level contact known between Washington and Moscow since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than five months ago. Reaching out directly to Griner contrasts with US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
“I know people are always talking about politics and politics, but I hope that’s far from this courtroom,” Griner said Thursday before the judge’s ruling.
Griner, 31, flew to Russia to join her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, in the knockout stages after their time at home in the US. She played in the Russian Women’s Premier League during the WNBA break.
In her testimony last week, Griner expressed confusion over how the vape boxes ended up in her luggage.
She told the court on July 27. “I still don’t understand how they got into my pocket to this day,” If I had to guess how they got into my pocket, I’m must be packed urgently”.
Than to follow.