Basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia denying that she wanted to break the law.
In February, Griner was detained at an airport near Moscow for possession of a vape filled with hashish oil. All forms of marijuana are illegal in the country, including those for medical use.
The lesbian Olympic gold medalist appeared in Russia’s Khimki Court on Thursday, July 7. “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent,” Griner told the judge. “I didn’t want to break the law.”
She explained at her plea meeting that she wants to have her side heard. “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she said, according toReuters.
The penalty for possessing cannabis in Russia ranges from a 5,000 ruble fine to a decade in a penal colony. Griner’s next court date is set for July 14.
This comes after Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said U.S. Embassy officials delivered Griner a letter from President Joe Biden.
The letter is in response to one she sent, explaining how she’s “terrified” she’ll be left in Russia “forever,” and begged him not to forget her or other U.S. citizens detained in other countries.
“We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” Blinken said in a tweet on Thursday.
President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke to Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner last Wednesday, according to a statement released by the White House. On the call, Biden read Cherelle the letter he sent to Brittney.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the statement read. “[Biden is] committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
The White House explained that Biden has directed the national security team to have “regular contact” with Griner’s family.
Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told NPRthat Griner has received and read the letter.
“She said that she’s eating well, she’s able to read books, and under the circumstances, she’s doing well,” Rood said.
“I would like again to emphasize the commitment of the U.S. government at the very highest level to bring home safely Ms. Griner and all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained,” Rood added.
Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, and has had “severely limited contact” according to PinkNews, including not being allowed to make phone calls.
A top Russian official recently accused the United States and President Biden of “fomenting hype” around Griner.
Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov has said to Russian State-owned media Tass that the publicity around the case is not helping to “resolve the issue,” but that Russia is willing to negotiate after the court reaches a verdict.
WNBA star Brittney Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden telling him she is "terrified" she'll be left in Russian prison "forever," and begged him not to forget her or other U.S. citizens detained in other countries.
The handwritten letter was delivered to the White House on Monday, July 4, and excerpts were provided to reporters. In it, Griner lamented her situation, and said that her imprisonment has made her reconsider the meaning of Independence Day.
"As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," Griner wrote.
The Biden administration has offered to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of a deal to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American prisoner who the State Department claims is being unlawfully detained in Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a State Department news conference that the White House had made a "substantial" offer to the Kremlin to ensure Griner's release.
"There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal," Blinken said. "And I'll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution."
LGBTQ groups are condemning a prison sentence handed down by a Russian court against WNBA star Brittney Griner, who became a pawn in a larger global skirmish between the United States and Russia stemming from the latter's illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Griner was found guilty, fined 1 million rubles -- or $16,300 in U.S. dollars -- and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for allegedly attempting to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia after being arrested at an airport back in February for having two vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a drug made from parts of the cannabis plant, in her luggage.
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