Before a court hearing on Thursday in Khimki, a city outside of Moscow, Brittney Griner is seen standing inside a defendants’ cage holding a picture of her Russian basketball team. AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina remove caption
switch to caption AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina
Before a court hearing on Thursday in Khimki, a city outside of Moscow, Brittney Griner is seen standing inside a defendants’ cage holding a picture of her Russian basketball team.
AFP via Getty Images, Evgenia Novozhenina MOSCOW Brittney Griner was found guilty of cocaine trafficking and possession by a Russian court. After a month-long trial and about six months after the basketball star was detained at an airport in the Moscow region with cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage, the eagerly anticipated judgement was announced.
The judge gave Griner a nine-year prison term. The Russian prosecution had asked for a sentence of nine years and six months in a prison colony because her offenses carried a maximum term of ten years.
WORLD Given that Russian criminal courts have a claimed 99 percent conviction rate, the trial’s verdict was not particularly surprising. But it seems as though politics will now decide Griner’s fate.
Under pressure from the public to achieve her release, the Biden administration has tried to negotiate with Russia to free both her and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. Any prospective agreement, including a supposed prisoner swap in which the U.S. would free renowned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, would have to wait until the court’s decision, according to Russia.
President Biden referred to Griner’s punishment as “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney” in a statement , which was made public immediately after the judgment.
WORLD It’s intolerable, he continued, and I urge Russia to free her right away so she may be with her wife, family, friends, and teammates. The Whelans will be brought home as soon as possible in safety, and my administration will be working relentlessly to make that happen.
In a statement of his own, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed that commitment, saying the court’s ruling “puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns.”
Blinken stated, “Russia, and any nation participating in wrongful imprisonment, represents a threat to the safety of everyone working, residing, and visiting overseas. The US is against this practice everywhere.
GRINER ACCEPTED THAT “AN HONEST MISTAKE” WAS MADE. Griner’s defense attorney demanded her to be exonerated or for the court to be lenient in any penalty it imposed during the closing arguments earlier on Thursday. In addition, the 31-year-old spoke for herself.
I made a sincere mistake, and I hope your decision won’t mean the end of my existence in this place, Griner stated.
WORLD The NBA champion and Olympian claims she must have put the marijuana in her purse by accident. Griner has a medical marijuana card in Arizona, according to her defense team, which she uses to manage the injuries she has accumulated over years of competing. But in Russia, like to federal legislation in the United States, it is always unlawful to possess cannabis for personal use.
In their closing arguments, Griner’s defense attorneys argued for her acquittal or at the very least a light sentence by pointing to Griner’s contributions to the development of Russian women’s basketball and outlining irregularities in her arrest and detention, including a lack of access to qualified translators.
Additionally, the basketball player’s attorneys pointed out that despite receiving a prescription for medical marijuana from a U.S. physician to treat chronic pain during the offseason, she had never failed a drug test.
WORLD Defense attorney Maria Blagovolina questioned, “What does this show?” It demonstrates that Brittney Griner didn’t intend to import marijuana into Russia and merely smoked it at home in very modest doses.
Griner repeated that she never intended to break any laws or cause harm to anyone in her closing argument to the judge.
As she said that “here is my second home and all I wanted to do was win championships and make them happy,” she expressed her regret to her Russian teammates for whatever harm she may have caused.
HER DEAL STARTED JUST PRIOR TO RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE. One week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Griner was detained in February. Her incarceration rapidly gave rise to rumors that Putin’s administration intended to use her as leverage against the United States. In her final arguments to the judge on Thursday, Griner made a reference to that.
She stated, “I know that politics and political pawns are constantly being discussed, but I hope it is removed from this courtroom.
An overview of Griner’s ordeal is provided below:
Feb. 17: Griner is held at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Griner was wrongfully detained, according to the American State Department, on May 3. On May 28, American Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan refers to Griner as a “bargaining chip” amid speculation about a potential prisoner exchange. On July 1, the prosecution in court will break the seal on their case. On July 7, Griner enters a guilty plea to drug charges as speculation of a prisoner swap increases. Griner speaks in court on July 27 and claims she unintentionally imported marijuana into Russia. On July 27, the United States claims it made a deal with Russia in exchange for Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. Athletes and activists at home are calling for her release as closing arguments begin on August 4. Griner is the Phoenix Mercury’s star center. However, she participates in foreign leagues during the U.S. league’s offseason, where she earns significantly more money than she does in the WNBA. She has recently been a member of the Russian squad UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is run by oligarch Iskander Makhmudov. longstanding ties was given to Griner’s American club by the team.
Griner was seized as she traveled from the US to rejoin her Russian team.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert described the decision and sentence as “unjustified and disappointing, but not surprising.”
“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered,” they said. “It is our hope that we are approaching the conclusion of this process to finally bring BG home to the United States.”
POLITICS The group working to liberate Griner has expanded beyond just her basketball teammates and supporters. Numerous civil rights organizations, including the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, submitted a letter to President Biden this summer pleading with him to handle her issue urgently.
Reporting from Russia was Maynes. From Washington, D.C., Chappell and Treisman provided a report.
This story is still developing. For updates, come back here.