President Joe Biden issued a statement on the nine-year verdict for Brittney Griner, saying that she “received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney”.
On Thursday, the president shared a statement with reporters saying : “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said that “Ms Griner was unlawfully detained but beyond that, I really can’t comment”.
The National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, told MSNBC that “she should have never been on trial to begin with. So there should be no sentence ... We’re going to continue to insist as we must to have consular access to Ms Griner so that we can make sure we can keep that communication going”.
Concerning a possible prisoner swap with the Russians, Admiral Kirby said that “we have made a serious proposal to the Russians to try to get Brittney and Paul Whelan ... home where they belong. And we urge the Russians to seriously consider that proposal to act on it”.
Mr Whelan is a former Marine in jail in Russia on a charge of espionage that he has called “fictitious” and “fabricated”, according to CNN.
Speaking about the Russians possibly wanting to add another prisoner to the swap, he said: “We interpreted the leaks about that from the Russian side as just a bad faith attempt to avoid and cloud up ... what is an actually serious proposal that we made ... weeks ago.”
Julia Ioffe of Puck News tweeted that “nine years is a very, very long sentence. When a Russian lawyer who works on these kinds of charges told me that 6-7 years ‘wouldn’t be a bad outcome’ for Griner, he wasn’t wrong”.
— José Díaz-Balart Reports (@JDBalartMSNBC) August 4, 2022
Ms Ioffe added that “Americans don’t fully understand of what Brittney Griner’s reality in a Russian penal colony will look like: She is very tall, Black and American. She really sticks out. And she doesn’t speak Russian, making it that much harder to navigate the complex rules and hierarchies”.
“Russia is not our friend. It is a hostile foreign adversary preying on an innocent person as a political pawn as trade bait for a prisoner exchange”, NBC legal analyst Barb McQuade wrote.
Abby Phillip of CNN tweeted: “This news is obviously devastating for Brittney Griner’s family. But it is also not entirely unexpected. The most likely resolution of this for Griner has ALWAYS been that the US and Russia would strike a deal for a prisoner exchange, which remains on the table.”
The Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, Joni Madison, said in a statement that Ms Griner is “an American hero who is so much more than a WNBA superstar and Olympian”.
She added that Ms Griner is “unlawfully detained” and that “we join with so many of Brittney’s loved ones – her friends, teammates, and family – in sending her support as she endures this unimaginable hardship, so far from home”.
“Today’s harsh sentencing is merely the latest example of how she is being used as a political pawn – and it has to stop. It is long past time that we bring Brittney home and we support the Biden administration’s efforts to do so”, she said.
“It’s interesting seeing Americans refuse to be sympathetic to Brittney Griner on the grounds that she ‘should’ve known better’ when most Americans have little to no idea how their criminal system works or punishes [and] often end up SHOCKED by the legal consequences of their actions”, New York lawyer Olayemi Olurin tweeted. “I’ve received way too many incredulous calls from clients in America going ‘so they can just do this?! Someone can just lie on me and I get locked up?!’ to entertain people pretending like they knew or she should’ve known the ins and outs of Russia’s system. Be real.”
Comedian Ian Karmel added: “It’s f***ing insane to me the amount of Americans celebrating Brittney Griner’s prison sentence. We need to screen Rocky 4 for all of the country’s racists immediately.”
Kimberly St Julian-Varnon, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of History, tweeted that “we cannot expect a prisoner exchange to happen soon. There is an appeals process, and Russia has to be willing to negotiate with the US”.
“I say this to help Americans understand the severity of this situation and the limited power that the United States has. The anger many people feel right now should not be aimed at the Biden Administration (at least not for this). Patience is key”, she added.