Today a Russian court convicted WNBA player Brittney Griner on drug possession and smuggling charges and sentenced the American athlete to 9 years in prison.
“That’s why I pled guilty to my charges,” Griner reportedly told the court. “I understand everything that’s been said against me, the charges that are against me and that is why I pled guilty but I had no intents to break any Russian laws.”
Russian prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Griner to 9 years and six months in prison, according to People, which was just shy of the maximum possible sentence of 10 years. Prosecutors also asked that Griner be fined 1 million rubles, equivalent to about $16,600.
President Joe Biden released the following statement after a Russian court sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in prison: pic.twitter.com/wxDCbaaQBe
— ESPN (@espn) August 4, 2022
At home, Griner regularly complained about the lack of freedom she was offered as a black person.
Griner is a supporter of Black Lives Matter and in July 2021 protested the National Anthem by refusing to enter the basketball court while the national anthem was played. Griner announced her plans to protest against the National Anthem for the entire season, claiming that “Black people didn’t have rights at that point.”
“It’s hard disrespecting a song that didn’t even represent all Americans when it was first made,” said Griner while playing professional sports in the United States. “I’m going to protest regardless,” she said. “I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine.”
“It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”
In a letter made public after she was jailed in Russia, Griner offered praise to Joe Biden and begged for his help in securing her freedom.
— Joe Castro 😎 (@JoeCastro_) March 12, 2022
“I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” Griner wrote in the letter on July 4. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
Joe Biden’s White House declared the sentence “unacceptable” and vowed to continue efforts to bring the basketball star home.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” said Joe Biden. “It’s unacceptable, and 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 is accused of espionage by the Russians, which America categorically denies is true.
Previous reports indicated that Biden offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – known as the “Merchant of Death” – to free Griner and Whelan, though this offer was reportedly made in June and has appears to have gone unanswered by the Russians.
Bout was convicted after federal police say he attempted to sell missiles to a Colombian terrorist group that would have been used to shoot down American aircraft, including military helicopters.
Relations between Russia and the United States have reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War as the West continues to ramp up sanctions against Moscow in retaliation for what the country calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Moscow claims it invaded Ukraine in February to protect ethnic Russians in the Donbass region from Ukrainian state violence, while Kiev maintains that the invasion was unprovoked.