Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison for drug smuggling, Biden calls for ‘immediate’ release

Women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison Thursday after a court found her guilty of smuggling drugs into the country.

The verdict prompted an outraged reaction from President Biden, who called on Russia to let Griner go “immediately,” ABC reported.

Griner sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison

Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February with vape canisters in her travel bags that contained hashish oil. She pled guilty but insisted that she brought the drugs by mistake.

The WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist had also claimed that she was using marijuana medicinally, although medical marijuana is illegal in Russia.

Griner now faces nine years in prison and must pay a $16,500 fine. After the verdict was read Thursday, Biden promised to do everything in his power to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018, home.

The Biden administration considers both Griner and Whelan “wrongfully detained.”

“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,” Biden said. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

Russia ready to talk

For the first time last week, the administration confirmed making a controversial offer to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan. Russia said Friday that they were ready to discuss a swap but warned the United States must desist from “public diplomacy.”

“There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said.

Whelan is serving 16 years for espionage. He says he was entrapped by a Russian intelligence officer who planted state secrets in his pocket.

Griner is a controversial figure back home in the United States, owing to her kneeling protest of the national anthem. Her lawyers said she will appeal.

“She’s very upset. Very upset, very stressed,” one of her lawyers, Marina Blagovolina, said. “She can hardly talk, honestly, so it’s difficult time for her.”

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