After Brittney Griner received a 9 1/2 year sentence in Russian court Thursday, President Joe Biden reiterated the same stance the U.S. government has taken in recent months.
It’s “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said in a statement.
“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.”
The WNBA star was convicted of drug smuggling, according to CNN, and the judge reportedly said “the court took into account Griner’s partial admission of guilt, remorse for the deed, state of health and charitable activities.” In addition to the prison sentence, she was fined 1 million rubles [approximately $16,500].
Griner has been detained for more than 100 days in Russia for reportedly carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage while at an airport near Moscow. She pleaded guilty to the charges in July. Her defense attorneys argued that she used cannabis for medicinal purposes and that she had no intention of breaking the law when she arrived at the airport.
The Mercury star noted this in an emotional plea Thursday.
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“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, per CNN. “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 that is far from this courtroom.
“I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.”
The United States has been trying to negotiate a prisoner swap, which included convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and American Paul Whelan, who is also being held in Russia. However, CNN reported in late July that the Russian government also wanted Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in the country’s spy business, as part of the deal. Krasikov is in German custody.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently spoke with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for the first time since before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. He referred to their conversation as “frank and direct” and one in which he “pressed the Kremlin to accept the proposal” to release the WNBA star and Whelan, per CNN.
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