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Brittney Griner, the American WNBA star detained in Russia at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was found guilty in a Russian court of bringing drugs illegally into the country and was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. The judge also fined her 1 million rubles (about US$16,300).
The context here is that Griner was arrested, at least in part, because of US support of Ukraine in the war. There have been ongoing negotiations for a prisoner exchange, with the US offering to release a Russian arms dealer in exchange for Griner and another American detained in Russia named Paul Whelan. Moscow has said that there could be no agreement on a prisoner exchange until after the verdict.
Griner’s legal team plans to appeal the decision, and the US says it’s still looking into getting the two home. But in the meantime, US officials have called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice" and “unacceptable."
“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 said in court ahead of the sentencing. “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 is far from this courtroom."
“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. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible," said US President Joe Biden in a statement.
Maria Blagovolina, one of Griner’s lawyers, shared that Griner was “very upset" about the verdict. “It is difficult for her to talk," she said after the hearing. “It is a difficult time for her."