US president calls basketball star ‘wrongfully detained’, urges Russia to release her ‘immediately’
Brittney Griner’s conviction is “unacceptable” and Russia must free her “immediately,” US President Joe Biden said on Thursday, after a Moscow court sentenced the Olympic basketball champion to nine years in prison for drug trafficking. He also described Griner as “wrongfully detained”.
Griner’s sentence is “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia wrongfully detains Brittney,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. The US President is self-isolating at the White House after his Covid-19 symptoms returned.
“This is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with his wife, relatives, friends and teammates.the statement read, adding that the U.S. government will “continue to work tirelessly and pursue all possible avenues” to bring back Griner and Paul Whelan, who Russia convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years.
A Khimki district court had found Griner guilty of illegal narcotics trafficking and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony, slightly less than the nine-and-a-half years demanded by prosecutors. The presiding judge also ordered him to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,200).
Griner was arrested on February 17 when a drug-sniffing dog at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport alerted her to her luggage. In his bags, security guards found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia.
The eight-time WNBA All-Star who plays for Phoenix Mercury has apologized, saying the cartridges ended up in her luggage by accident while she was hastily packing. Griner was on her way to Yekaterinburg to play for a basketball team there during the WNBA offseason, as she had done since 2015.
Griner’s lawyers appealed the sentence “absolutely unreasonable” and said they would “certainly” appeal it. The tribunal “completely ignored all evidence from the defence” including Griner’s guilty plea, they added.
Moscow has categorically denied that Griner’s arrest had anything to do with politics or the conflict in Ukraine that began a week later. Russian authorities noted that she had broken the law and that no exceptions could be made just because she was a foreigner.
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