WNBA star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian jail for drug-smuggling

U.S. women's basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday in a case that raised fears she was used as a political pawn in Russia's war against Ukraine. 

Judge Anna Sotnikova of the Khimki City Court issued the verdict and fined Greiner 1 million rubles, or about $16,400. She said that the court took into account Greiner's partial confession of guilt, remorse for the ACT, State of Health and charitable activities. 

The public prosecution had requested that she be sentenced to 9.5 years in prison. 

Before the verdict, Greiner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech. 

I made an honest mistake and I hope in your judgment that it will not end my life here. I know that everyone is constantly talking about the political pawn and politics, but I hope that it will be away from this courtroom. 

After the verdict, Greiner told a CNN producer as she left court, "I love my family." 

The verdict comes about six months after the 31-year-old was arrested at the Moscow airport and Russian prosecutors accused her of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. 

The two-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug-related charges last month and said she accidentally packed the drugs in a hurry. 

Sentence comes amid tense US-Russia

Greiner's lawyers, Maria blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement that they would appeal the decision and criticized the court for ignoring their evidence. They have 10 days to appeal. 

"We are very disappointed with the verdict. Taking into account the amount of material (not to mention the disadvantages of experience) and appeal, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will definitely file an appeal." 

Speaking outside the court, Boykov said that the average time in prison for this type of crime is five years, adding that almost a third of convicts receive parole.

Greiner "is not doing well today,"said blagovolina, a partner at the law firm rybalkin, gortsunyan, dyakin & co. The defense team hopes that Greiner will be able to talk to her family next week. Blagovina added that Greiner will return to the detention center where she is being held. 

Sentence comes amid tense US-Russia relations 

The harsh sentence comes amid the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the country's rumble with the United States and Europe. The U.S. State Department maintains that Greiner is being held unjustly, and U.S. 

Officials have offered a possible prisoner exchange with Russia in a bid to bring her home safely. 

"Today, the American citizen Britney Greiner received a prison sentence is another reminder of what the world already knows: Russia is holding Britney wrong. 

This is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to immediately release her so that she can be with her husband, loved ones, friends and teammates,"he said. 

Foreign minister Anthony Blinken criticized the Russian legal system more broadly, saying the sentence " highlights our great concerns about the Russian legal system and the Russian government's use of illegal arrests to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns." 

Sentence comes amid tense

He said the United States is working on the return of Greiner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen detained by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. "This is an absolute priority for me and the Department,"Blinken said. 

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was now "up to the Russian side" whether Greiner's conviction opened new doors for negotiations on a prisoner exchange. 

Kirby stressed that the US position remains that he wants Russia to "take the deal on the table because it's a good deal, it's a fair deal, and it will help bring Paul and Britney home." 

CNN national security analyst Steve Hall said that the harsh verdict was not surprising, and said that the actions of the Russian court are not legitimate.

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