US President Joe Biden has blasted Russia after basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court.
The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and NBA women’s champion who had played in Russia, was arrested in February, just days before Moscow launched its military intervention in Ukraine.
The 31-year-old athlete was accused of drug trafficking for possession of vape cartridges with cannabis oil.
On Friday morning (AEST), the Khimki City Court found Griner guilty of possession and smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in prison.
She was also fined over $23,000.
Judge Anna Sotnikova said the time Griner has spent in custody since his arrest would count towards the sentence.
The sentence was only six months less than the sentence prosecutors had asked the court to impose.
Griner earlier today made a final appeal to the court and issued an apology to his team and family.
She said she had made “a mistake in good faith” and begged the court to hand down her sentence “not to end my life”.
“I want the court to understand that it was an honest mistake that I made in rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back on my team,” Griner said.
“I know everyone talks about political pawns and politics, but I hope it’s away from this courtroom.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope your decision doesn’t end my life here.”
Its future now hinges on diplomatic talks between the United States and Russia.
The White House issued a statement on Biden’s behalf minutes later condemning Griner’s sentencing.
“Today, U.S. citizen Brittney Griner was sentenced to a prison sentence that serves as yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia wrongfully detains Brittney,” the statement read. “This is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with his wife, relatives, friends and teammates.”
Biden vowed to “work tirelessly and pursue all possible avenues” to bring Griner and American Paul Whelan, who is also imprisoned in Russia for espionage, home “as soon as possible.”
Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, confirmed earlier this week that negotiations were taking place behind the scenes, but stressed that Griner’s legal team was not involved.
She added, however, that Griner would be eligible for a trade after the verdict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week had his first talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov since Moscow sent troops to Ukraine on February 24.
Blinken said he “pressed the Kremlin” to accept a proposal from Washington for the release of Griner and Whelan.
Griner was arrested when she came to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the American offseason – a common route for American stars looking for extra income.
At a previous hearing, Griner said she had no intention of breaking the law or using the banned substance in Russia.
Originally published as American basketball star imprisoned for nine years in Russia, guilty of drug trafficking