Brittney Griner behind bars in Russia

U.S. Women's National Basketball Association basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, was found guilty by a Russian court of smuggling and storing narcotics on August 4, 2022. (Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian Court Sentences Brittney Griner to 9 Years in Penal Colony on Drug Charges

A U.S. Embassy official in Moscow called the verdict and Griner's sentence "a miscarriage of justice."

Following a Russian court's announcement of a guilty verdict in the case of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday, calls mounted for President Joe Biden to take any necessary steps to help free the Women's National Basketball Association player.

Griner's attorneys said they would "certainly file an appeal" of the "unreasonable" verdict, which came five months after Griner was arrested for carrying two vape cartridges containing less than a gram of hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The court sentenced Griner to nine years in a penal colony and ordered her to pay a fine of about $16,000 for smuggling and storing drugs. Griner pleaded guilty to the charge but has maintained that she did not intend to break Russian laws and had mistakenly packed the oil.

"I understand everything that has been said against me in the charges against me, but I had no intent to break Russian law," Griner said in her testimony to the court. "I want the court to understand that it was an honest mistake that I made while rushing and in stress trying to recover post-Covid and just trying to get back to my team."

Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner called Griner's sentence "egregious" and called on Biden to "do everything in his power to get her back to the U.S." as well as work to release people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses in the United States.

Biden called on Russia to release Griner "immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates." He added that former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, must also be freed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week about a possible prisoner exchange, with Griner and Whelan released in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Elizabeth Rood, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, called the verdict and Griner's sentence "a miscarriage of justice" on Thursday.

"Secretary of State Blinken, President Biden's national security team and the entire American government remain committed to bringing Ms. Griner home safely to her family and friends," said Rood.

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