Brittney Griner’s Show Trial Ends With 9-Year Sentence, Now Prisoner Swap Can Start

A Russian court sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner to 9 and a half years in a penal colony after she was found guilty Thursday of “smuggling” less than a gram of cannabis oil in vape cartridges found in her luggage. Now the US and Moscow will begin negotiating her release as part of a prisoner swap. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today that Moscow is “ready to discuss this topic,” but warned that the US better not say anything mean about Russia or his country might take its hostage and go home. Lavrov said the only discussions that matter will take place in a diplomatic arrangement already agreed to by US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant,” he said at a news conference at a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia.

Lavrov went on to grumble that the negotiations might be in trouble if the US got mouthy, warning, “If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again and make loud announcements … this is their business, their problem.” He seems nice.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s attending the same ASEAN summit meeting, told reporters that the US is already using the proper channel, calm down with the drama Sergey, yeesh:

“We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that. And we’ll be pursuing that,” Blinken told reporters at a press briefing.

But then, Blinken said that publicly, so maybe it doesn’t count. Didn’t seem all that loud, so that’s good. NBC News notes that even though Blinken and Lavrov are both at the summit in Phnom Penh, a State Department spokesperson said the two have no plans to meet face to face. This is because diplomacy is a very complicated dance that would put bower birds to shame. Lavrov and Blinken last spoke by phone last week.

Griner, the center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested in late February at a Moscow airport on her way to join the Russian team she plays for in the off season. The arrest came just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, and Griner has essentially been treated as a hostage by Putin’s government. In May, the US State Department said it considers Griner to have been “wrongly detained,” and the US government has been working to get her released.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges last month, admitting that she had the vape cartridges in her luggage but explaining that she had packed in a hurry and didn’t realize the cartridge was in her bag. She asked the judge to be understanding because she’d had no intent of breaking Russian law. At her sentencing Thursday, Griner again asked for lenience from the court:

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said in court on Thursday before breaking down in tears.

“My parents taught me two important things: One, take ownership of your responsibilities and two, work hard for everything that you have. That’s why I pled guilty to my charges.”

Griner also said she was aware that her case has attracted international attention, but that she hoped the judge would focus only on her own lack of any criminal intent, saying, “I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom.” It was worth a try, we suppose.

Griner’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the verdict, calling it “absolutely unreasonable.”

Shortly after the verdict was announced, President Biden said in a statement that the US would work to get her released.

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.

The US has offered to exchange a convicted Russian arms smuggler, Viktor Bout, for Griner and for Paul Whelan, another American being held by Russia; Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on “espionage” charges. So far, Russia hasn’t responded to that proposed prisoner swap; it’s possible that Putin may try to leverage Griner’s plight to get one or more other convicted Russians out of US custody.

Supporters of Griner have — loudly — condemned the Russian verdict and sentence, and have called for her release; before last night’s WNBA game between the Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, members of both teams linked arms on the court and held a moment of silence — 42 seconds, for her jersey number — which broke down near the end as fans chanted “Bring her home! Bring her home!”

But while most Americans recognize the hostage situation for what it is, convicted felon and professional troll Dinesh D’Souza, who whined that his own guilty plea in an election fraud scheme was political oppression because look how important he is, explained on Twitter that Griner was simply getting her comeuppance for thinking she was better than everyone else just because she’s a Black lesbian leftist:

I suspect what happened with Brittney Griner is she became massively entitled in this country—“I’m black, I’m a lesbian and I’m a leftist, so I’m a superior person and basically above the law.” Then she discovered, to her astonishment, that other countries don’t see it that way!

D’Souza was pardoned by Donald Trump in 2018 for being a real patriot who merely ignored election laws because he was helping a friend, and certainly has never tried to play off his own privilege apart from reminding the world at every opportunity that he went to Dartmouth and is a very successful rightwing producer of fake documentaries and lying book-shaped objects. More recently, D’Souza has argued that armed insurrection against the US government is perfectly fine, because wasn’t George Washington an armed insurrectionist?

In short, as one smartass noted, D’Souza is probably the last person who should ever use “I” and “suspect” in the same sentence, the end.

[NBC News / CNN / Reuters]

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