President Biden vowed to “pursue every possible avenue” to bring her home.
WNBA superstar and political prisoner Brittney Griner was sentenced to nearly a decade in a Russian penal colony on Thursday, after she’d been found guilty of what that country claimed was a criminal effort to smuggle narcotics this past spring.
Griner was arrested in March for possession of several cannabis vape cartridges, which her attorneys claimed she’d owned for medicinal purposes. Her detention, and subsequent trial, was largely seen as Russian posturing as it continues its imperial expansionist invasion of Ukraine in the face of widespread Western condemnation.
In early July, Griner pled guilty to possession of cannabis in Russian court, explaining that she’d simply packed her bags in a hurry, and there was “no intent” to break the law.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said at the trial. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
The U.S State Department has designated Griner as being “wrongfully detained,” and government officials have been working to arrange a high-level prisoner swap with Russia to ensure her return. Those efforts have failed thus far, although her 9 year sentence, coupled with a fine of approximately $17,000 will likely reinvigorate the government’s attempts to bring Griner home from what is broadly seen as a punitive political effort on the part of the beleaguered Russian government.
In a sign of how seriously (if belatedly) the White House is working on Griner’s case, President Joe Biden released a statement immediately after the sentence was handed down, reiterating that “this is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.”
“It’s unacceptable,” Biden continued. “I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested and sentenced in 2020 on espionage charges, which he has denied.
Speaking after Griner’s conviction, her defense attorneys claimed that the Russian court had “completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.” They have vowed to appeal the ruling.