A Russian court on Thursday sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison over drug possession and smuggling. The two-time US Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury was also fined one million rubles (Rs 13 lakh).
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil. Her arrest came a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Griner has 10 days to appeal and she could also ask for pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What is the case: Griner was detained at a Moscow airport for carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia. Griner said she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her injuries.
The court "found the defendant guilty" of smuggling and possessing "a significant amount of narcotics", judge Anna Sotnikova told a court in the town of Khimki just outside Moscow, reported AFP.
What she said in the court: Griner, after the verdict, said that she never meant to hurt anybody or to break any laws in Russia."I 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 political pawns and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom," CNN reported her as saying.
Strong reactions in US: US President Joe Biden said the verdict is "unacceptable"."I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and team-mates," Biden said.
"Today's verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained. The WNBA and NBA's commitment to her safe return has not wavered," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a joint statement.
#WeAreBG | @PhoenixMercury, @ConnecticutSun pic.twitter.com/O2BSkbsaZw— WNBA (@WNBA) August 4, 2022
"The wrongful detainment and unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner are brazen and unacceptable violations of the rule of law by Putin" US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
The wrongful detainment & unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner are brazen & unacceptable violations of the rule of law by Putin. Russia must release her immediately. Every day that she remains in detention is a reminder of Putin’s contempt for the law and human rights & dignity.— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 4, 2022
Prisoner swap possibility: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week had said that the US had made a "substantial proposal" aimed at securing the release of Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, reported AP.
AP, quoting sources, reported that US has offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons to Colombia's former FARC guerrilla army.
In April, Russia had traded Marine veteran Trevor Reed, convicted of a physical altercation with police in Moscow, for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot imprisoned for a cocaine trafficking conspiracy.