Brittney Griner, the US basketball star, broke down in tears and said “I love my family” as she was handcuffed and led from court after being sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for drug smuggling.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she landed at Sheremetyevo airport, in Moscow, on Feb 17. The 31-year-old was in the country to play in its lucrative women’s basketball league.
Despite saying it was an “honest mistake”, a Russian judge ruled she had acted with “criminal intent”.
Ms Griner’s sentence was met with outrage in the US – with Joe Biden, the US president, calling it “unacceptable” and demanding her “immediate release.”
As she left the court in the town of Khimki, just outside Moscow, Ms Griner – who is 6ft 9in tall – was visibly in tears.
Maria Blagovolina, her lawyer, said: “She is very upset, very stressed. She can hardly talk. It’s a difficult time for her.”