Russian court jails Griner for 9 years over drug smuggling
The Manila Times
KHIMKI, Russia: A Russian court on Thursday (Friday in Manila) sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison over drug smuggling as US President Joe Biden called the ruling “unacceptable.” 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. Sotnikova sentenced Griner, one of the world’s greatest basketball players, to nine years in a Russian penal colony and said she would also have to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590). “I love my family,” Griner told journalists after the ruling as the six-foot-nine (2.06 meters) athlete was led away by members of Russia’s law enforcement. Her defense team told reporters the 31-year-old — known as BG to her friends and fans — was “very upset” and “very stressed.” Biden immediately released a statement, calling the Russian court’s sentencing of Griner “unacceptable.” “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said in the statement. “It’s unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates.” The US president reiterated that he would “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to repatriate Griner. Griner’s trial accelerated in recent days as the United States and Russia discuss a potential prisoner swap that could involve the basketball star. The White House urged Russia later on Thursday to accept its offer of a deal for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was imprisoned on espionage charges. “We have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. The arrest came just days before Moscow launched its military intervention in Ukraine. Prosecutors had earlier requested the two-time Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion be sentenced to nine and a half years in prison on drug smuggling charges. Griner’s trial came with tensions soaring between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine that has sparked international condemnation and a litany of Western sanctions. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said earlier on Thursday. “I want the court to understand it was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from post-Covid and just trying to get back to my team.” Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia. Her defense team said they were “very disappointed” by the verdict and would appeal.