Brittney Griner, a WNBA basketball player and native of Houston, was given a nine-year prison term by a Russian court on Thursday for importing illegal substances into that nation.
Last month, Griner entered a guilty plea to the charges and expressed regret for the event, calling it a “honest mistake.”
The decision is the most recent depressing twist in a tragic story that started in February when Russian officials detained Griner just before their reckless invasion of Ukraine.
Griner’s allies are still optimistic Much like he did earlier this year with another Texan, ex-Marine Trevor Reed, President Joe Biden will negotiate a prisoner swap in exchange for her release.
The diplomatic situation is more urgent now because of the infamously severe circumstances in Russian jails. However, there are also particular worries about how Griner, a gay man, is treated in a nation where homophobia is pervasive. Last month, representatives of the Biden administration proposed exchanging Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was detained in the United States, for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American who was being held in Russia.
After the verdict, Biden issued a statement.
He stated, “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more indication of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney Griner. “It’s outrageous, and I demand that Russia free her as soon as can so she may be with her wife, family, friends, and teammates.
The Whelans will be brought home as soon as possible in safety, and my administration will be working relentlessly to make that happen.
Griner was detained for carrying less than a gramme of cannabis oil in vape cartridges into the country when he arrived in February. During the proceedings on Thursday, Griner apologised and said she “had no desire to infringe Russian law” but had rushed her packing because she was going to play professional basketball in Russia.
From 2009 through 2013, Griner was a standout player for the Baylor University Lady Bears basketball team. She has been a member of the Phoenix Mercury since the 2013 NBA Draft, but she has also competed in basketball competitions in China and Russia.
Many members of the Texas congressional delegation have kept in touch with the State Department about this even though she lives in Phoenix. Griner’s release is being actively pursued by U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, and Colin Allred, a fellow Baylor University player and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.