WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison in a sentence US President Joe Biden has deemed “unacceptable” after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport in February.
Who is Brittney Griner?
Ms Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association and is regarded as one of the league’s best players of all time.
She won Olympic gold medals for the US in 2016 and 2020.
Griner had travelled to Russia to play in the Russian League during the WNBA’s off-season. This is when she was accused of having the vape cartridges cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner’s detention was announced first by Russia on March 6 and she pleaded guilty to the charges on July 1 when the trial also started.
“I would like to plead guilty on the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking any Russian law,” Ms Griner said when she took the stand last month.
Where is she being held?
“[The court has stated] by cumulation of crimes to impose imprisonment for nine years and a fine at a rate of 1 million roubles [$23,000],” the judge ruled.
“The punishment is to be served in general regime penal colony. The fine has to be paid directly to the banking details named in the verdict.”
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner told the courtroom Thursday, per the AP. “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 pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom.”
Basketball community shares support
Phoenix Mercury described the verdict as a “sobering milestone” in the case, stating the club remains “heartbroken for her”.
We Are BG. pic.twitter.com/xFLu0a2aSB
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 4, 2022
— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) August 4, 2022
What’s the offer to get her out?
The US is pushing for Moscow to accept a deal that aims to secure the release of Ms Griner that would see her exchanged with Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap alongside former US Marine Paul Whelan.
“It’s a serious proposal. We urge them to accept it. They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it,” said John Kirby who is the national security spokesperson of the White House.
Moscow has only told the US to pursue “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information”.
A source told Reuters Russia had tried to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov to the proposed swap.
Kirby when asked if Washington would be willing to reconsider Russia’s request, Kirby said ” I don’t think we go so far as to even call it a counter-offer”.