American basketball player, Brittney Griner, aged 31, has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia after she was caught in possession of cannabis.
As well as a nine-year sentence for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis, the WNBA star and two-time US Olympic champion has also been ordered to pay a fine of ₽1m (~£13,745).
Some reports have suggested that the development could see the US and Russia negotiating over a prisoner exchange.
President Joe Biden’s office released a statement on the sentencing of what it describes as the “wrongfully detained” Griner, who has been detained since February,
Biden stated: “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.
“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.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said the star was being used as a “political pawn”.
Today’s sentencing of Brittney Griner was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn. We appreciate and continue to support the efforts of @POTUS and @SecBlinken to get a deal done swiftly[1/3]
— Lindsay Kagawa Colas (she/her) (@kagawacolas) August 4, 2022
In a press briefing by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC co-ordinator for strategic communications John Kirby, Jean-Pierre stated: “We have repeatedly called for Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.
“Under President Biden’s direction, the US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue to bring home Brittney, Paul Whelan, and every American held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world.
“As you all know, we have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal.
“I’m not able to share more publicly at this time, but we are willing to take every step necessary to bring home our people, as we demonstrated with Trevor Reed. And that’s what we’re going to do here. I can assure you this is something the President and our national security team are focused on every single day.”
Griner has 10 days to appeal the verdict.