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A Russian court on Thursday sentenced U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years prison on drugs charges, after finding her guilty of narcotics possession and smuggling for bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia.
In its ruling, the court said that Griner committed the crime “deliberately”, despite Griner having said that it was an “honest mistake”.
It came after the basketball star tearfully pleaded with the judge not to “end her life” with a harsh prison sentence. Her sentencing is due to take place on Thursday.
A Russian state prosecutor had called for Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, to be sentenced to 9-1/2 years prison if she is found guilty of bringing illegal drugs to Russia.
Griner was detained by Russian police at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Though she pleaded guilty, she said she had not intended to bring a banned substance to Russia or cause harm.
In a teary statement before the verdict, Griner implored the judge to recognise her actions as a mistake.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said.
US President Biden said that Ms Griner’s sentencing was “unacceptable” and called on Moscow to release her 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,” Biden said a statement.
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
The United States has offered to exchange Russian prisoners for American citizens including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.