There are suspicions that Brittney Griner is being used as a pawn in Russia’s conflict against Ukraine because she was found guilty of bringing narcotics into the country and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday.
Khimki city court judge Anna Sotnikova sentenced Griner to one million rubles, or nearly $16,400 in fines. Griner’s partial admission of guilt, sorrow for the deed, condition of health, and philanthropic efforts were all taken into consideration by the court, according to Griner. The prosecution had requested for a prison term of 9.5 years.
Griner made an impassioned address before the decision in which he apologised to the court and appealed for leniency.
“I never intended to harm anyone, put Russian citizens in danger, or violate any laws here,” Griner stated. It was an honest error on my part, and I trust that in your decision, it does not mean the end of my existence here. People speak about pawns and politics all the time, but I hope that’s not what’s going on here in this courtroom.” To be clear, I had no intention of violating any Russian legislation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Adding, “I did not plot or cooperate to conduct this crime.”
“I adore my family,” Griner said to a producer as she exited court following her sentencing.
Following her arrest at a Moscow airport in February, when Russian authorities said she was carrying less than 1g of cannabis oil, the 31-year-old received the verdict nearly six months later. Two-time Olympic gold winner pled guilty to drug charges this month, saying she packed the medications in a haste because she was in a rush.
A written statement from Griner’s attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov stated that they intend to appeal the ruling and chastised the court for not considering their evidence. They can file an appeal within the next ten days.
It’s a huge disappointment for us. Because we are lawyers, we think that the justice system should treat everyone equally. “The court entirely ignored all of the defense’s evidence, including the guilty plea,” they added in the statement. According to current legal precedent, this is a violation of the law. After considering both the amount of material and the defendant’s plea, this verdict is completely irrational. No doubt, we’ll take our case to court.”
The typical sentence for this sort of crime is five years in prison, according to Boykov, who was speaking outside the courtroom. He added that approximately a third of those convicted receive parole.
Griner “is not doing fine today,” said Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm. Griner’s legal team is optimistic that she will be allowed to speak with her family next week after her release from prison. This means that Griner will be returned to the facility where she is currently being kept, Blagovolina said.
US-Russian ties have been strained recently
In the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and saber-rattling with the United States and Europe, this severe penalty is warranted. U.S. authorities have suggested a possible prisoner exchange with Russia in an effort to secure Griner’s safe return to the United States.
It’s “a miscarriage of justice” and “terrible,” said US Ambassador to Russia Elizabeth Rood, while President Biden called the sentence “too long.”
One additional reminder to the world that Russia is unlawfully holding Brittney Griner was given today when she was sentenced to a year in jail.” I appeal on Russia to quickly free her so she may be with her wife, family, friends, and teammates because this is intolerable,” Biden said in a statement.
“The sentencing highlights our major concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s exploitation of illegal detentions to achieve its own agenda, utilising individuals as political pawns,” said Antony Blinken, Secretary of State.
Griner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen detained in Russia since 2018, are being sought by the United States, he claimed. According to Blinken, “This is a top priority for me and for the Department.”
According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, it’s now “up to the Russian side” whether Griner’s conviction opens fresh channels for discussions on a prisoner swap.
To reporters at a White House briefing on Thursday, Kirby said, “We’re still open to having our proposal carefully and positively reviewed,” adding, “If the Russian side feels more empowered to do so, then so be it.”
“The United States stance is that Russia should take the deal on the table because it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’ll help get Paul and Brittney home,” Kirby said in an interview with NBC News.
The punitive penalty, according to CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall, was not unexpected, and he contended that the judicial processes in Russia were not legal.
There was “no question” what was going to happen, he claimed. “This is all performance in Russia.” Mr. Griner’s negotiation price has been raised by Vladimir Putin’s efforts.
Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker, was offered in exchange for Griner and Whelan by the Biden administration. Multiple people involved with the conversations said that Russian officials responded the US offer, but US officials refused to consider the request as a credible counteroffer.
Russia warned on Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will not aid discussions for a Griner prisoner exchange. As Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov put it, the negotiations should be “discrete,” Moscow’s opinion.
On Thursday night, Griner’s Phoenix Mercury WNBA squad took on the Connecticut Sun. Team members joined arms and observed a 42-second silence before the game. Fans began yelling, “Bring her home!” as the memorial came to a close. “Bring her back home!” Six-time all-star Griner wears the Mercury’s 42nd jersey.
The Mercury suffered a 77-64 defeat. BG’s starting point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith told reporters after the game that the decision was “devastating.”
Today, “no one wanted to even play,” she told the media. We’re all sobbing before the game, so how can you approach the game with a clean head and approach the court? Because you’re doing your best to uphold her memory and continue to play hard in her honour.
Her incarceration had lasted for 168 days when the Mercury made a statement calling the verdict “a grim milestone.”
Every day, we are impressed by BG’s courage and determination, and we will not let her disappear from public consciousness until she is back on American soil. There is no way we will let her leave unnoticed. As stated in the statement, “BG” is our name.
As Griner’s penalty is “awful,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said the guilty verdict was.
There were tears in the coach’s voice. To hear her words and her apologies. ” “I’m just trying to send her love and prayers.”
“The decision and punishment are unwarranted, disappointing, but not surprising,” WNBA President and COO Cathy Engelbert and NBA President Adam Silver said in a joint statement.
This process of getting BG back to the United States is nearing its conclusion, according to the WNBA and NBA, who pledged their support for her safe return.
In final arguments, the defence pleaded for mercy
As soon as Griner was led into the defendant’s cage by Russian officials in handcuffs, the court session on Thursday got underway. At this point, she was able to speak openly with her legal counsel and show them a picture of the Russian basketball team she had played for during the WNBA summer, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Blagovolina stated in closing arguments that Griner never smoked marijuana in Russia and never intended to do so. The lawyer noted that she didn’t need to carry the vape cartridges to Russia. Blagovolina said that all of this proves that her acts were done without any thought.
Even if Griner had ever used medicinal marijuana, it was exclusively at home in Arizona, uncommon, and prescribed by a doctor, she said. Blagovolina stated she had no idea how stringent the regulations were in Russia.
Furthermore, Boykov contended that Griner was deprived of the opportunity to thoroughly review the court materials. According to him, everyone has the freedom to use their native language and choose the language of communication in accordance with the Russian constitution.
While translating an investigation paper, an interpreter supplied to Griner by an investigator informed him, “basically, it suggests that you are guilty.”
Throughout the trial, Griner’s defence team has argued that her detention at the Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 was handled incorrectly by airport staff.
It was “improper,” Boykov said in a statement last week, stressing that further facts will be revealed in closing statements.
Griner claimed that she was forced to sign paperwork she didn’t fully comprehend after being halted at the airport. They had confiscated her phone and were forcing her to sign additional forms as she used Google Translate on the device she was given to begin with.
Griner testified without a lawyer present, and her rights were not explained. Once she was held, she would have the right to an attorney and the right to know what she was being accused of. Within three hours of her detention, she was required by Russian law to be advised of her rights.
During Griner’s seventh court appearance on Tuesday, a defence expert testified that the chemical tested in her vape cartridges did not meet Russian law’s requirements for testing. There were also “a few faults” found in the machinery used to measure the material, according to Blagovolina.
Testifying at trial, Griner stated that while she received a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana, she never intended to smuggle the substance into Russia. Her attorneys had previously stated that she had been drug-free since her arrest in February.
It is our contention that she packed her bag in a hurry and did not notice that chemicals legal in the United States ended up in this suitcase and landed in the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center, stated.