WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in prison by Russian court

National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of marijuana, awaits sentencing inside the cage. defendant before the trial in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.

Evgenia Novozhenina | AFP | beautiful pictures

WASHINGTON – A Russian court on Thursday found Brittney Griner guilty of drug offenses and sentenced her to nine years in prison, as the US government tries to secure the release of the WNBA star.

The court also fined Griner 1 million rubles ($16,590).

Griner, 31, who played professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA tournament, was arrested in February at a Russian airport for allegedly smuggling vape boxes with cannabis oil.

Under Russian law, this charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In the final argument, Russian prosecutors asked the court to sentence her to nine and a half years in prison and issue a fine of 1 million rubles.

Griner asked the court for leniency earlier on Thursday.

“I never intended to hurt anyone,” Griner said after the closing arguments, according to NBC News. “I never intended to endanger the Russian people. I never intended to break any laws here.”

Her lawyers have previously said that Griner only used cannabis medically and had never used it while in Russia.

Last month, Griner pleaded guilty but said she unintentionally packed the box of marijuana in her suitcase because she was in a hurry.

The court’s decision came a week after the Biden administration confirmed make an offer to the Russian government to release Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. In a statement Thursday, President Joe Biden called the prison sentence “unacceptable” and called for Griner’s immediate release.

“This is unacceptable and I urge Russia to immediately release her so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” Biden wrote in a statement.

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every avenue possible to get Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” Biden added.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the US “put an important proposal on the table a few weeks ago” about the release of Griner and Whelan. The top US diplomat also said he would discuss the offer with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in the first known conversation between the two since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

“This is delicate business,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a press conference at the White House. “We have made a proposal and we urge the Russians to actively implement that proposal so that we can bring these two individuals home.”

“The details of it, I think are best left between us and our Russian partners,” Kirby said.

‘I’m terrified that I could stay here forever’

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands inside the defendants’ cages before a hearing at Khimki Court outside Moscow on July 26, 2022.

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | beautiful pictures

Days before she pleaded guilty last month, Griner wrote a letter to Biden asking him to help directly with her case.

“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any achievements, I fear that I might here forever,” the professional athlete wrote in a month 7 5 letters.

“I realize you’re facing a lot of things, but please don’t forget about me and… other American incarcerated. Do all you can to get us home,” Griner wrote. .

After receiving the letter, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris phoned the wife of the WNBA star, Cherelle Griner. Biden also wrote to Griner that American diplomats had delivered in person in Moscow.

Biden reassured his wife that he was working to secure Griner’s release as soon as possible, according to the White House announcement of the call. He also said on the call that he was working to free Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia.

Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of spying for the United States. At the time of his arrest, Whelan was traveling to Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother, David Whelan.

Last month, Biden signed an executive order that would expand the administration’s tools available to prevent the hostage taking and wrongful detention of US citizens.

Executive order, called “Increased efforts to bring home hostages and mistakenly detained US citizens“will authorize the imposition of financial sanctions and visa bans on those involved in the hostage taking.

“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment not only to issues in general but to families in particular, and it has been informed by the government’s frequent engagements with them,” said one. senior Biden administration official last month, who spoke on condition of anonymity. to share details about the new operating command.

In April, Russia agreed to release former US Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange with the United States.

Reed was accused of assaulting a Russian officer and was detained by authorities there in 2019. He was later sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. Reed and his family have maintained his innocence, and the US government describes him as unjustly imprisoned.

In order to free Reed, Biden agreed to release Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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