A Russian courtroom has discovered US basketball star Brittney Griner responsible of drug smuggling, and sentenced her to 9 years in jail in a case that has reached the very best ranges of United States-Russia diplomacy.
The courtroom “discovered the defendant responsible” of smuggling and possessing “a major quantity of narcotics”, decide Anna Sotnikova advised a courtroom within the city of Khimki simply outdoors Moscow.
The courtroom additionally fined her a million rubles ($16,300).
US President Joe Biden was fast to sentence the decision, calling it “unacceptable” and renewing his requires the participant’s launch.
“My administration will proceed to work tirelessly and pursue each attainable avenue to carry Brittney and Paul Whelan dwelling safely as quickly as attainable,” he stated, referring to a different American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.
Sotnikova had stated on Thursday that Griner dedicated the crime “intentionally”. However Griner had testified through the trial it was a mistake.
Since her arrest, Griner’s kinfolk, teammates and supporters have been calling on the US authorities to place its full weight behind the case to push for her launch.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a Girls’s Nationwide Basketball Affiliation (WNBA) star, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 when she entered the nation with vape canisters containing hashish oil.
She known as it an “trustworthy mistake” whereas talking within the courtroom Thursday earlier than sentencing.
“I by no means meant to harm anyone, I by no means meant to place in jeopardy the Russian inhabitants, I by no means supposed to interrupt Russian regulation,” Griner stated by means of a translator whereas standing within the steel cage reserved for defendants in Russian courtrooms.
She apologised to her household, teammates, and her partner.
Her detention got here one week earlier than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid a spike of tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Griner had pleaded responsible when her trial started in July, and stated then she didn’t carry the canisters into Russia deliberately. Hashish is illegitimate in Russia for each medicinal and leisure functions.
Consideration will now flip to the high-stakes risk of a prisoner swap.
In July, the US Division of State designated Griner as “wrongfully detained”, transferring her case beneath the supervision of its particular presidential envoy for hostage affairs, successfully the federal government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Final week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to simply accept a deal beneath which Griner and Whelan would go free.
The Lavrov-Blinken name marked the highest-level recognized contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine greater than 5 months in the past. The direct outreach over Griner is at odds with US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
“I do know all people retains speaking about political pawn and politics, however I hope that’s removed from this courtroom,” Griner stated on Thursday earlier than the decide’s ruling.
Griner, 31, had flown to Russia to hitch her staff, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for the playoffs after spending time at dwelling within the US. She has performed within the Russian Girls’s Basketball Premier League through the WNBA low season.
In her testimony final week, Griner expressed puzzlement as to how the vape cartridges had ended up in her baggage.
“I nonetheless don’t perceive to at the present time how they ended up in my bag,” she advised the courtroom on July 27. “If I needed to guess on how they ended up in my baggage, I used to be in a rush packing.”
US lawmakers, activists and athletes denounced the sentence in opposition to Griner on Thursday, stressing that it’s concerning the geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Moscow, not the drug fees.
US Congressman Ruben Gallego, who represents components of Phoenix, Arizona the place Griner performed earlier than leaving for Russia, known as the sentence “unsurprising as it’s unjust”.
“It’s clear that Russia sees Ms. Griner as a political pawn of their warfare in Ukraine,” Gallego wrote on Twitter. “I’ll maintain working with the Biden administration’s efforts to carry her dwelling.”
Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley additionally known as the sentence a “miscarriage of justice” that makes it “clearer than ever that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained purely due to her nationality”.