Brittney Griner's 9-year sentence in drug case puts the spotlight back on Americans in Russian jails
A Russian court has sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on drug charges on Thursday, August 4. The court “found the defendant guilty” of smuggling and possessing “a significant amount of narcotics”, Judge Anna Sotnikova told a court in the town of Khimki just outside Moscow. The WNBA star was also fined one million rubles ($16,300). Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star, was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs by police after the verdict, turning to reporters and saying, "I love my family."
Griner admitted possessing vape and hashish oil, but told the court she had made an "honest mistake". In reading the verdict on Thursday, the presiding judge stated that she had considered the fact that the American had already spent a significant amount of time in detention. Maria Blagovolina, Griner's defense attorney, stated that her client was "very upset, very stressed." President Joe Biden slammed the verdict as “unacceptable” and called for the 31-year-old's release once more.
Griner's prison sentence has started a heated conversation among the US lawmakers, activists, and athletes who have condemned the sentence against Griner stressing the geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Moscow, not the drug charges. Along with Griners, there are many other Americans who have been detained in Russian prisons for a long time including Paul Whelan, Marc Fogel, David Barnes and Sarah Krivanek.
In November 2021, an American schoolteacher Sarah Krivanek, 46, was arrested after a domestic dispute involving her Russian romantic partner, Mikhail Karavaev. Krivanek was charged with "intention to inflict slight bodily harm" and "threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm," according to Russian media reports. Later on, the complaint was withdrawn by her partner. But still, Krivanek was bailed out under the condition to not leave Moscow until her trial.
On December 15, Krivanek was escorted to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport by an American diplomat because her Russian visa had expired. However, at the airport Russian authorities confiscated her passport, and she was later arrested. It's been six months now since Krivanek is arrested, PEOPLE reported.
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, was arrested in a Moscow hotel in December 2018 on espionage charges that he has consistently and vehemently denied. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial that US officials called "unfair". After the sentencing of Griner, the Biden administration has said it will continue to work for Whelan's release, as well as that of detained WNBA player.
Another American, Marc Fogel ,was convicted of drug smuggling and drug possession. On August 14, 2021, Fogel and his wife flew back to Russia for their tenth and final year of teaching, but he was detained at the Moscow airport. His family stated that he was transporting 17 grams of cannabis for medical purposes in order to treat chronic back pain. Fogel was convicted of drug smuggling and possession last month. He was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian high-security penal colony.
On January 13, David Barnes was apprehended by Russian investigators in Moscow, accusing him of abusing his two children years earlier in Texas, according to the court documents. According to his family, David traveled from suburban Houston to Moscow in December 2021 in an attempt to obtain legal permission to see or bring his children home after his Russian ex-wife allegedly violated a court custody order and fled the United States with them. However, it's been more than six months now since he was detained.