A Russian court Thursday sentenced U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for smuggling drugs “with criminal intent” in a politically charged trial that has roiled already tense relations with the United States.
The court ruling was expected and came shortly after state prosecutors in Moscow proposed a jail term of 9 1/2 years for the women’s basketball star.
She was arrested earlier this year when vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil were found in her luggage while she was traveling to Moscow to play in a women’s basketball league. She said the cannabis was for medical purposes and that she had not realized she had included it while packing.
President Biden called the sentence “unacceptable” and urged Moscow to release Ms. Griner immediately.
“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,” the president said in a statement.
Mr. Biden pledged to “continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring home Ms. Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine jailed in Russia on espionage charges, “safely as soon as possible.”
The Biden administration has pressed for her release and took the unusual step of making public a proposed prisoner swap offered to the Kremlin that would allow her to come home. Russian officials said any deal would have to wait until the court ruled on her case.
Before the verdict was handed down, the all-star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury apologized for what she said was “an honest mistake” and asked the court for mercy.
“I hope in your ruling it does not end my life,” she said.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.
• David R. Sands can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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