A Russian judge sentenced American basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling.

President Joe Biden he described the prison sentence as “unacceptable” and called for his immediate release.

Judge Anna Sotnikova said the time Griner has served in custody since her arrest in February will count towards the sentencing.

Griner reacted to the end with little emotion and heard the verdict with a blank look on his face, as the judge handed down his sentence and fined the basketball player 1 million rubles (£ 13,435).

Griner pictured behind bars in the dock

Biden said in a statement: “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence which is another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is holding Brittney unfairly.

“It is unacceptable and I ask Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates.”

The 31-year-old was arrested at the Moscow airport on February 17 after police said they found vaporizer containers containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

She found guilty to the charges and before the verdict was issued Thursday, Griner told the court that she had no intention of breaking the law when she flew to Russia to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Six-foot-eight-inch center Brittney Griner gestures as she is recognized by President Barack Obama during a ceremony honoring the 2012 NCAA women's basketball champions Baylor University Bears in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, July 18, 2012 (Photo AP / Charles Dharapak)
Griner was one of the 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship winners. Image: AP

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Ekaterinburg) for my mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them,” Griner said, his voice broken.

“I also want to apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization at home, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing spouse at home.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope my life doesn’t end here in your sentence.”

Summarizing the evidence and providing his conclusions, the judge said the Phoenix Mercury player took drugs in Russia illegally.

Baylor Bears' Brittney Griner cuts a piece of the net after defeating Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their NCAA Final Four women's championship basketball game in Denver, Colorado on April 3, 2012. REUTERS / Mark Leffingwell (UNITED STATES - Tag: BASKETBALL SPORTY)
Griner cut a piece of the net after the Baylor Bears defeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Denver in 2012

Griner’s lawyer said they would appeal the sentence, adding that the court ignored the evidence they had presented as well as the guilty plea.

They said they were “disappointed” by the verdict.

The Russian prosecutor had asked for the sentencing of the two-time Olympic gold medalist to nine and a half years in prison.

Griner said, “I love my family,” as she was escorted out of the classroom in handcuffs.

Following the verdict, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the sentence “aggravates the injustice of his illicit detention”, with the White House national security spokesman adding that Blinken will seek to speak to his Russian counterpart. , Sergei Lavrov.

He has done this before proposed an exchange of high-risk prisonersthat could see Griner and Paul Whelan, another America imprisoned in Russia for espionage, break free.

Russian officials have criticized US statements on the case, saying a possible deal should be discussed through “silent diplomacy without the release of speculative information.”

The WNBA and NBA described the ruling as “unwarranted and unfortunate, but not unexpected”.

“The commitment of the WNBA and the NBA to his safe return has not wavered, and it is our hope that we are nearing the end of this process to finally bring BG home to the United States,” the basketball championships said in a joint statement.

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