US basketball player Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in Russian jail over drug charges

A Russian judge has convicted and sentenced American basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling.

President Joe Biden described the jail term as “unacceptable” and called for her immediate release.

Judge Anna Sotnikova said the time Griner has served in custody since her arrest in February would count towards the sentence.

Griner reacted to the term with little emotion and listened to the verdict with a blank stare on her face, as the judge handed down her sentence and fined the basketball player 1 million roubles (£13,435).

Mr Biden said in a statement: “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.

“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 31-year-old was arrested at Moscow airport on 17 February after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

She pleaded guilty to charges and before the verdict was delivered on Thursday, Griner told the court she had no intention to break the law when she flew to Russia to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Brittney Griner pictured in a cage in court

Brittney Griner pictured behind bars in the dock

“I want to apologise to my team-mates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said, her voice cracking.

“I want to also apologise to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organisation back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that, in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here.”

While recapping the evidence and giving her findings, the judge said the Phoenix Mercury player took drugs into Russia illegally.

Griner’s lawyer said they would appeal the sentence, adding that the court ignored evidence they had presented as well as the guilty plea.

They said they were “disappointed” by the verdict.

The Russian prosecutor had called the two-time Olympic gold medallist to be sentenced to 9-1/2 years prison.

Griner said: “I love my family”, as she was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Following the verdict, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the sentencing “compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention”, with the White House national security spokesperson adding Mr Blinken will try to speak to his Russian counterpart, Antony Blinken.

He has previously proposed a high-stakes prisoner swap, which could see Griner and Paul Whelan, another America imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, go free.

Russian officials hit out at US statements about the case, saying a possible deal should be discussed through “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information”.

The WNBA and NBA described the sentencing as “unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected”.

“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered, and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States,” the basketball leagues said in a joint statement.

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