American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia since February, was sentenced on Thursday to 9 years in prison by a Russian court for drug trafficking. She had been arrested with a vaporizer containing cannabis liquid.
The court in Khimki, near Moscow, found the player guilty of drug possession and trafficking and sentenced her “to nine years in a penal colony”, judge Anna Sotnikova said, according to a correspondent of the AFP.
The basketball player will appeal this “senseless” court decision, her lawyers have announced.
US President Joe Biden called the condemnation “unacceptable”.
“I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates,” he urged in a statement moments after the verdict was announced.
The American leader pledged to work “relentlessly” and to “explore all possible avenues” in order to work for his release.
The star, double Olympic champion, finds herself caught up in the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States.
Her trial has accelerated in recent days, as Moscow and Washington negotiate a prisoner swap that the player could be part of, with the United States claiming to have recently made a “substantial” offer to Moscow.
The player listened to the judge’s statement with her face lowered, locked in the cage reserved for the defendants in the courtroom.
“Good Faith Error”
“I made a mistake in good faith and I hope that the judgment will not end my life here,” Griner pleaded in his last speech before the statement of the court’s decision.
Aged 31 and measuring 2.06 meters, Griner is considered one of the best basketball players in the world. Since the start of the trial, she has appeared focused, answering the court’s questions calmly and with precision.
Thursday, before the start of the hearing, she held up to reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.
The Phoenix Mercury player had come to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often earn more money abroad than in the United States.
She had been arrested at the airport with cannabis vaping liquid. She admitted having been in possession of this substance, however claiming to have brought it to Russia by mistake.
Above all, she refuted any trafficking, stressing that this small quantity of substance was only for her personal consumption, for analgesic purposes, because she suffers from chronic pain.
“I never meant to hurt anyone, I never meant to endanger the Russian people, or to break the law here,” Griner said Thursday.
On Thursday, the prosecutor assured him that she had knowingly tried to “hide” the cannabis-based liquid from customs officers at the airport.
The player’s lawyers had asked for her acquittal.
A conviction of the player legally paves the way for a possible prisoner exchange.
Last week, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, had their first discussions since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
Blinken said he pressed his counterpart to accept Washington’s “substantial offer” to Moscow to secure the release of Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage.
According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, against Brittney Griner and Mr. Whelan.
Mr. Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, is nicknamed the “merchant of death”. His extraordinary career was one of the inspirations for the film “Lord of War” in which Nicolas Cage plays a cynical arms dealer. Viktor Bout operated for a time from Ostend.
No agreement has yet been reported and the Kremlin appeared irritated after Washington’s public statements about the negotiations.
Ms Blagovolina, Griner’s lawyer, said on Tuesday that the player’s defense hoped for only one thing: “To be able to go home”.
This article has been published automatically. Sources: ats / afp
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