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WNBA star, Brittney Griner received a nine-year jail sentence for deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia. Since her arrest in February, there have been concerns over her case being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The basketball player was arrested in Moscow on February 17, after Russian customs officers detected illegal substances in her luggage — hash vape cartridges. Possessing cannabis in any form is illegal in Russia. Griner was arrested and detained immediately.
Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki city court handed down the jail sentence on top of a fine of $16,129.04 (1 million rubles). The prosecution had asked for a sentence of 9.5 years in jail for the WNBA player. However, the court took into account that the accused admitted her guilt, and showed remorse for her actions, and Griner’s state of health and charitable activities.
Before the judge made her decision, the two-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist said, “I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here.” She continued on by saying she “made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about [her being] political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
Griner stated that she had no intentions to break any of Russia’s laws. She simply made a mistake while she rushed to pack her luggage and inadvertently added cartridges containing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil.
The United States State Department believes that Griner has been wrongfully detained. Recently, U.S. officials suggested a prisoner exchange with Russia. They offered Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, for Griner and another American prisoner Paul Whelan. However, the Kremlin has not taken America up on its offer.
In a written statement, the basketball star’s lawyers wrote that they were “very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality.” They felt the “court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.” Her lawyers fully plan on appealing the verdict.
President Joe Biden believes that her sentence is “unacceptable” and “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.” He then called “on Russia to release her immediately so” that Griner can be with her spouse, friends, teammates, and loved ones.
His comments had some people on social media agitated, saying things like “If it was a Blue Blooded American there wouldn’t be this much hype. It’s only because she’s famous.”
Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Russia, called the sentence a “miscarriage of justice.”
"I made an honest mistake."
Brittney Griner delivers statement in Russian court ahead of an expected verdict: "I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics. But I hope that that is far from this courtroom." https://t.co/nEpVrwligV pic.twitter.com/MFBo1wmzn3
— ABC News (@ABC) August 4, 2022
Written by Sheena Robertson
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