US basketball star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to a 9 year jail time on Thursday by a Russian court over a drug smuggling case. Russian authorities arrested the American WNBA player at a Moscow airport in February over cannabis possession charges. Authorities have now four times increased Griner’s detention.
Griner sentenced to 9 years of prison time, President Biden to “pursue every avenue” to bring her back
Brittney Griner, seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, was sentenced to 9 years of jail time on Thursday by judge Anna Sotnikova at a court in the town of Khimki, located just outside of Moscow. Sotnikova also imposed a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) on Griner. The court found Griner guilty of smuggling and possessing “a significant amount of narcotics”.
Since being detained in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport, Griner has been in Russian captivity. In Griner’s luggage, the Russian Federal Customs Service discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a marijuana concentrate.
Griner appealed for her release in a letter to President Joe Biden that was delivered to the White House on July 4. While reflecting on the significance of freedom over the Fourth of July vacation, Griner noted that she missed her wife, family, and teammates.
“It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” Griner wrote. US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Griner, two days later. Biden expressed his support for the Griner family in a statement sent by the White House, saying that his administration will “pursue every avenue” to have Griner return to the country.
The President also issued a statement after the court announcer Griner’s sentence, saying that the ruling was “unacceptable”. “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,” Mr. Biden said in the statement.
Brittney Griner case: timeline explained
Attempting to sneak less than a gramme of hashish oil into Russia, where Griner plays for a Russian professional basketball club during the WNBA winter, led to her detention by Russian authorities in February. The Russian government is allegedly using Griner as a pawn in political negotiations with the United States, according to the U.S. State Department, who believes she was wrongfully imprisoned.
On February 17th, Brittney was stopped by Russian authorities at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow while Griner was on her way to join her Russian professional basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg. Russia’s Federal Customs Service announced Griner’s arrest on May 5. “We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken the next day.
Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, put up a post on Instagram the following day, expressing her pain. “There are no words to express this pain,” she wrote in the caption in an Instagram photo caption. “I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family.”
View this post on Instagram
On March 8th, the Russian state television released the first photo of Brittney since her arrest, and on March 17, Griner’s detention was extended until May 19. Later that month, Griner was allowed to speak to US officials for the first time, and State Department spokesperson Ned Price said a consular official verified that Britney was doing “as well as she can be expected”.
During this entire time, Griner’s WNBA team lent a huge amount of support to Griner, and honoured her by featuring her initials and jersey number (42) on the sideline of each team’s court throughout the season. The Phoenix Mercury also met with State Department representatives early in June, to discuss efforts to bring Griner back home. “We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said in a statement.
On June 27th, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months, and on the 1st of July, her criminal trial officially started amid concerns about the fairness of the process.
Griner appealed to President Joe Biden on July 4th for her release in a letter, of which a few lines were released to the public. “I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in the letter.
During the trial, Griner’s defence team argued that the WNBA player had been recommended medical marijuana by American doctors to alleviate her chronic pain.
Towards the end of July, the Biden administration offered to exchange Griner for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as “The Merchant of Death.”
Finally, on August 4th, Griner was convicted by the Russian court on Khimki and sentenced to 9 years of prison.
‘I made an honest mistake,’ said Griner in testimony
Brittney Griner testified in the Russian court on Thursday and shared a bit of her personal history. Asserting that she has made contributions to Russian society and that she had no intention of breaking the law, her legal team has pleaded for mercy in the case.
“I grew up in a normal house, a normal household in Houston, Texas, with my siblings and my mom and my dad,” Griner, 31, told the court. “My parents taught me two important things: One, take ownership for your responsibilities and two, work hard for everything that you get. That’s why I pleaded guilty to my charges.”
“I understand everything that has been said against me in the charges against me, but I had no intent to break Russian law,” she further stated, adding, “I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here.”