Russian justice on Tuesday rejected the appeal of American basketball player Brittney Griner, sentenced in Russia to nine years in prison for cannabis trafficking and who asked for her “traumatic” sentence to be reduced, amid very strong tensions between Moscow and Washington.
“President (Joe) Biden has been very clear that Brittney must be released immediately,” responded White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, regretting that she continues to be “wrongfully imprisoned, under unacceptable circumstances, after having to endure yet another bogus legal proceeding today.”
The court in Krasnogorsk, in the Moscow region, which considered the appeal, decided to “leave unchanged” the verdict handed down last August against the American basketball star, announced judge Elena Vorontsova.
Only one relaxation compared to the initial sentence: each day spent in detention before her conviction by Brittney Griner, arrested in February and imprisoned since, will be counted as a day and a half and deducted from the total of the sentence to be served.
“I really hope that the court will adjust this verdict because it has been very, very stressful and very traumatic for my mental and psychological state”, had declared shortly before the American basketball star, who participates in the hearing by videoconference. , according to an AFP journalist.
She said she “did not understand” such a severe judgment against her “when people were inflicted much less than me for more serious crimes”.
One of his lawyers, Alexander Boïkov, had for his part asked the court to “consider an acquittal due to the dismissal”.
– Under “the eyes of the whole world” –
“The eyes of the whole world are on this case,” said Mr Boïkov.
“The cruelty of this judgment strikes not only the participants in the trial, but also people around the world,” he said.
Brittney Griner was arrested in the Russian capital in possession of a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid.
She admitted having possessed this substance, however claiming to have brought it to Russia inadvertently and to use it legally in the United States as a painkiller.
She had gone to Russia to play during the American offseason, a common practice for WNBA basketball players who often earn more money abroad than in the United States.
The case of this woman, who was sentenced last August to nine years in prison for cannabis trafficking, has since taken on geopolitical significance in the context of the crisis between Moscow and Washington linked to the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
Other American citizens are currently incarcerated in Russia and the United States also wants to secure their release.
Washington has repeatedly said it has made a “substantial offer” to release two Americans imprisoned in Russia, Brittney Griner and a former US soldier, Paul Whelan.
According to Russian diplomatic sources, a possible exchange of prisoners could notably concern Brittney Griner and a Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout.
Mr. Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.