American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia, was sentenced Thursday, August 4, to nine years in prison for drug possession and trafficking, announced the court in Khimki, near Moscow. This is almost the maximum possible sentence for this crime, set at ten years in prison. Mme Griner will appeal this decision. “senseless”announced his lawyers in the process.
“The court found the defendant guilty” illegal possession and trafficking of a “significant quantity” drugs, Judge Anna Sotnikova said. A legacy of the Soviet Union, most prison sentences in Russia are served in prison camps located sometimes far from everything. Prison labor, usually in sewing or furniture-making workshops, is often compulsory there.
The sentence is slightly less than the nine and a half years in prison required by the prosecutor, who had also asked for a fine. “This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates”urged US President Joe Biden in a statement.
Stopped with cannabis-based vaping liquid
The North American Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) denounced, in turn, a condemnation “unjust and regrettable”. ” The verdict (…) was predictable, and Brittney remains wrongfully detained. The WNBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and we hope that the end of this process to bring Brittney Griner back to the United States for good is near.”the body wrote in a joint statement with the NBA.
The Phoenix Mercury basketball player had come to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players, who often earn more money abroad than in the United States. She had been arrested at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow with cannabis-based vaping liquid.
She admitted having been in possession of this substance, however claiming to have brought it to Russia by mistake. Above all, she denied any traffic, stressing that this small quantity of substance was only for her personal consumption, for analgesic purposes, because she suffers from chronic pain, like many athletes. The prosecutor assured him that she had knowingly tried to ” to hide “ cannabis-based liquid to customs officers.
During the hearing, the basketball player admitted having done “an honest mistake”adding: “I hope your decision will not end my life. » Aged 31, Griner is considered one of the best basketball players in the world. Since the start of the trial, she has appeared focused, answering the court’s questions calmly and with precision.
Exchange of prisoners
Thursday, she was once again brought handcuffed to the courtroom, dressed in a gray t-shirt, before being placed in the cage with bars reserved for the defendants. Before the start of the hearing, she held up to reporters a photo of herself surrounded by her basketball teammates in Russia.
Since her arrest in February, a few days before the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the double Olympic champion has been plunged into the geopolitical crisis between Russia and the United States. Her trial has accelerated in recent days as the two countries negotiate a prisoner swap that the player could be part of, with Washington claiming to have recently made an offer “important” in Moscow.
On Friday, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, had their first discussions since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine. Mr. Blinken says he pressed his counterpart to accept Washington’s offer to Moscow to secure the release of Mr.me Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage.
The basketball player’s conviction paves the way for a possible prisoner exchange. According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout, against Mme Griner and Mr. Whelan. Mr. Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, is nicknamed the “merchant of death”. His extraordinary journey was one of the film’s inspirations Lord of War, in which Nicolas Cage plays a most cynical arms dealer.