- BBC News World
American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday in a Russian court to nine years in prison on “drug” charges, in a case that has raised tensions over so-called “hostage diplomacy” between Washington and Moscow.
Griner, 31, was arrested at an airport in the Russian capital last February after customs agents found vape cartridges in her luggage containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia and which the athlete claims she used with medicinal purposes.
She has been in jail ever since, and to reduce her sentence, the Olympic medalist pleaded guilty to drug-related charges, though she said she did not intend to break any laws.
The US claims she is “unjustly detained” and has asked the Kremlin to release her in a prisoner exchange, although it is unknown if it has received a response on the proposal.
After knowing the sentence this Thursday, President Joe Biden called it “unacceptable” and asked the Russian authorities for his immediate release.
“Today, United States citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongly holding Brittney,” it said in a statement.
In addition to the 9-year prison sentence, the court ordered him to pay a fine of one million rubles (US$16,300) and informed him that he must serve his term in a penal colony.
Griner’s attorneys called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable” and assured that they will file an appeal.
The defense further criticized the court for “completely ignoring all of the defense’s evidence and, more importantly, the guilty plea. [de Griner]”, one of the hopes of the athlete to receive a lesser sentence.
However, the court assured that the sentence is consistent with Russian law and that they took into account for the sentence the fact that the American “had already spent a considerable time” in detention.
who is BG
BG, as her fans know her, is considered one of the best basketball players of all time.
A native of Houston, Texas, she earned a basketball scholarship to attend Baylor University, where she led the team to a national championship.
She is currently one of the most dominant players in WNBA history, widely considered the best offensive player in the league.
Few and few have matched what Griner has accomplished – winning a college championship, WNBA and EuroLeague titles and an Olympic gold medal.
She has also been a pioneer off the court after declaring her homosexuality at the age of 22, at the time she entered professional sports.
That year she was the first selected in the WNBA draft round and, shortly after, she became the first openly gay athlete (male or female) to be sponsored by the sports firm Nike.
“Before Griner, there was a shadow over the league, where you were told ‘don’t say gay,'” columnist Spruill explained. “And she just said, ‘To hell with that, this is who I am.'”
Despite that, Griner had a second job and that’s why he had traveled to Russia – to play with the EuroLeague team UMMC Ekaterinburg, where he had played since 2014 during the US offseason.
About half of the WNBA players compete outside during the offseason. For most it is a way to increase their income: WNBA players earn almost five times more in Russia than in the US.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the EuroLeague suspended all Russian teams, prompting the US and the WNBA to recall their players.
However, it was during that return that Russia’s Federal Customs Service reported in a press release that a sniffer dog had authorities inspect the carry-on luggage of an American female player and found drug-laden e-cigarette cartridges.
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