Following a politically charged trial that took place in the midst of escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine and could result in a high-stakes prisoner exchange between the two major world powers, American basketball star Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug possession on Thursday and given a nine-year prison sentence in Russia.
In The Hollywood Reporter, as detailed , The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, stared blankly as the judge’s decision was translated by an interpreter. Additionally, the judge assessed her a 1 million ruble ($16,700) fine.
President of the United States Joe Biden criticized the judgement and punishment as being unjust.
I call on Russia to quickly free her so she may be with her wife, family, friends, and teammates, Biden said. He also pledged to keep working to free Griner and Paul Whelan, an American who is currently detained in Russia on charges of espionage.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires for the U.S. Embassy, described the verdict as a miscarriage of justice outside of court.
An emotional Griner apologized to her family, teammates, and the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA summer, for the error I made and the embarrassment I caused them before the extremely quick judgement was rendered.
She said, “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life,” in a trembling voice.
Griner can request a presidential pardon after being found guilty, which is typically a need for setting up a prisoner exchange. Last month, Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, stated that before further action can be taken, the required legal processes must be finished.
The mounting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring her home was reflected in the revelation in July that the U.S. government was looking for a prisoner swap including Griner. Griner had previously been labeled as having been wrongfully arrested by the U.S. State Department, a claim that Russia has vehemently denied.
When Griner arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17, police claimed they discovered vape cartridges carrying cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner is regarded as one of the finest players in WNBA history and has been in custody ever since. After competing there since 2014, she was going back. I would like to plead guilty to the allegations against me, Griner stated as she entered the witness stand on July 7 during her trial. But I had no desire to disobey any Russian laws. She continued by saying that she had hurriedly packed for her travel and that’s why she carried the vape canisters into Russia.
In her evidence, Griner described a perplexing situation while being detained at the airport. She claimed that the government provided an interpreter who could only partially translate what was being spoken to her and that she was instructed to sign paperwork. She added that she wasn’t made aware of her rights.
Her attorneys presented proof that Griner was use medical marijuana for her chronic pain and injuries incurred during her career, along with a statement from her physician. According to Griner’s testimony, she was aware that cannabis oil was illegal in Russia but had no intention of breaking the law or making any attempts to smuggle anything in.
Trials continue in Russia even after admissions of guilt, and it has been hypothesized that her actions were an effort to expedite the judicial procedure in anticipation of a potential prisoner swap.
President Joe Biden has been under heavy fire from Griner’s American supporters, including her wife Cherelle, for not doing enough to secure her release as a result of her case’s poor progress and her nearly six months in detention.
Her incarceration wasn’t made public until after Russian soldiers entered Ukraine, when tensions between the two countries reached a new low following Washington’s leadership of the West in imposing sanctions on Moscow.
In a stark change of prior policy, the United States has offered Russia a deal to return Griner and Whelan home, according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 27. The proposal’s specifics were not made public, but a source acquainted with the situation claimed that the United States had proposed to exchange Whelan and Griner for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer. In order to speak about an ongoing investigation, the source insisted on anonymity.
The Merchant of Death Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year term in the U.S. after being found guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. people and giving support to a terrorist organization, may be traded for Griner, according to several rumors in the Russian media. For years, Russia has pushed for Bouts’ release.