The US has blasted the nine-year prison sentence of US basketball star Brittney Griner, who is being held in Russia on account of drug charges.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said that the sentencing “puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system.”
Griner, who pleaded guilty to drug charges but has denied deliberately breaking the law, was also ordered to pay a fine of one million roubles ($16,300).
The 31-year-old Olympic gold medalist was detained in February at an airport near Moscow when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Cannabis is illegal in Russia.
Griner’s defense team said they would appeal against Thursday’s verdict by the court in Khimki, near Moscow.
It is unclear how long she will actually spend behind bars, as the US and Russia have been discussing a potential prisoner swap that could involve the basketball player.
Reports in US media suggest imprisoned Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the Merchant of Death, could be transferred by Washington to the Russian authorities as part of the deal.
US: Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained
In a statement, Secretary Blinken said that the conviction and sentencing by a Russian court of US citizen Brittney Griner to nine years in prison further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.
“This step puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns,” Blinken said.
“Nothing about today’s decision changes our determination that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, and we will continue working to bring Brittney and fellow wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home,” he said. “This is an absolute priority of mine and the Department’s.”
“Russia, and any country engaging in wrongful detention, represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad,” he stated. “The United States opposes this practice everywhere.”
Earlier, Russian prosecutors had asked for a nine-and-a-half-year prison term for Griner.
Reading the verdict, the presiding judge in Khimki said she took into account the fact that the Americans had already spent a considerable time in detention.