WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in prison and fined 1 million rubles, which is $16,400, reports CNN. The sentence is seen as a formality to accelerate the negotiation process between the United States and Russia to bring Griner home.
During the hearing, the Russian court claimed that Griner deliberately committed the crime, rejecting Griner’s plea for leniency. Griner was arrested with less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport back on February 17, 2022.
After the sentencing, Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, called the ruling a "miscarriage of justice."
"Secretary of State Blinken, President Biden's national security team, and the entire American government remain committed to bringing Miss Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones," Rood said.
Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, Griner’s attorneys, released a joint statement to reporters describing the nine-year sentence as “absolutely unreasonable,” adding that they will file an appeal.
"As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” the attorneys’ statement read. “The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.”
In a statement, President Joe Biden said that Griner’s sentence was “unacceptable.”
“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,” said President Biden.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he continued.
The sentencing follows the reported “substantial offer” that the U.S. made to Russia, in the form of a prison swap for Griner and Paul Whelan.
Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in Moscow on espionage charges in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia.