Hollywood stars reacted with outrage on Thursday as it was revealed Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for bringing a marijuana pen into the country in February.
Justin Bieber, Mia Farrow, and Andy Cohen were among the celebrities expressing their displeasure in various social media posts made shortly after news of the sentencing broke.
‘THIS HURTS,’ Bieber, 28, posted an his Instagram Stories. ‘If anyone knows of anyway I can help please let me know.’
Farrow, 77, called the verdict ‘heartbreaking’ as she tweeted: ‘The Russian judge ignored everything Britney Griner had stated. He sentenced her to 9 years in a “penal colony”. For carrying 2 vaping cartridges – medically prescribed. Damn. Heartbreaking.’
‘This hurts’: Hollywood stars reacted with outrage on Thursday as it was revealed Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for bringing a marijuana pen into the country in February
Meanwhile, Cohen tweeted in all caps, ‘BRING BRITTNEY HOME.’ He added an American flag and prayer hands emoji.
Monty Python actor Eric Idle tweeted: ‘Brittney Griner: Basketball star jailed for nine years on drug charges.
‘So for invading a neighbor country that would be about 90,000 years for Putin on the same scale.’
Author Greg Olear tweeted: ‘Brittney Griner is a hostage. This is kidnapping, sanctioned by Putin’s government.’
Not everyone shared the same views, however, with comedian Tim Young writing: ‘Brittney Griner is not a political prisoner… she carried drugs that were illegal with her in Russia and was arrested – there’s nothing “political”about that.’
Griner, an WNBA star, was found guilty of drug smuggling on Thursday by a judge who rejected her claim she accidentally brought the drugs in. Prosecutors had asked that she be jailed for nine-and-a-half years, six months less than the maximum of 10 years in prison.
Standing up for Brittney: Bieber and Mia Farrow were among the celebs standing up for the athlete
Disbelief: Mia Farrow called the verdict ‘heartbreaking’
President Biden immediately denounced the sentence and claimed she was ‘wrongfully detained’ – despite her pleading guilty. She said it was an ‘honest mistake’ and that the drugs must have ended up in her bag ‘by accident’.
In a statement immediately after the sentencing, Biden said: ‘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.’
He said he would continue to work ‘tirelessly’ to pursue ‘every possible avenue’ to bring her and Paul Whelan – another American imprisoned in Russia – home.
Griner, 31, was arrested at the airport in Moscow in February and has been incarcerated ever since, despite failed attempts from the White House to negotiate her release.
Griner, an WNBA star, was found guilty of drug smuggling on Thursday by a judge who rejected her claim she accidentally brought the drugs in
Monty Python actor Eric Idle was among those expressing their displeasure at the verdict
Author Greg Olear tweeted: ‘Brittney Griner is a hostage. This is kidnapping, sanctioned by Putin’s government’
On Thursday, she sat in the defendant’s cage inside the courtroom throughout the proceedings, relying on an interpreter to whisper to her everything the judge said.
Before the sentence was handed down, she begged for leniency and asked the court to take into consideration her good character.
A judge accepted her plea – finding her guilty on drug possession and smuggling. They ruled that she committed the crimes purposefully – which she has denied.
She said she did not want to be considered a political pawn, and that bringing the cannabis pen into the country was a simple, ‘honest mistake’.
‘Russia became my second home. I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls coming out and waiting on me. That’s what kept making me come back here.
‘I want to apologize to my teammates, my club and the city for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought.
Speaking up: Andy Cohen tweeted in all caps, ‘BRING BRITTNEY HOME’
Not everyone shared the same views, however, with comedian Tim Young writing: ‘Brittney Griner is not a political prisoner… she carried drugs that were illegal with her in Russia and was arrested – there’s nothing “political”about that’
‘I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, Phoenix Mercury, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing spouse back at home.
‘I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws.
‘I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn’t end my life. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics…but I hope that it’s far from this courtroom.
‘I had no intent on breaking Russian law. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.
‘I hope you can take into account all the documents, the character lists that have been sent in on my behalf.
Griner was held in a cell while her legal team sat at a table surrounding her. She had to rely on an interpreter to relay what the judge said
Griner holds up a team photo showing her playing with UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian team she spent off-seasons with to bolster her WNBA earnings
‘This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win championships and make them proud,’ she said. The State Department had been in talks to secure Griner’s release as part of a deal that would also bring imprisoned American Paul Whelan home.
The deal has been on the table for weeks, but Russia is yet to agree.
US officials will not confirm reports that it includes freeing Viktor Boult, a Russian criminal known as the ‘merchant of death’.
During closing arguments on Thursday, her attorneys pleaded for leniency.
‘In sprinting there is Usain Bolt, in Formula 1 Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball there is Brittney Griner,’ her lawyer Maria Blagovolina said.
Griner was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. She has been incarcerated since February
Griner shaking hands with her attorney Alexander Boykov, right. Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, is shown, left
Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm, said that should the court deems it necessary to punish her, Griner should be be treated leniently.
Griner’s family say they have been frustrated with the White House response to the situation.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a ‘bad faith’ response to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that American officials don’t regard as serious.
She declined to elaborate.
Griner has acknowledged there were vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport.
But she insisted that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage because she was packing hastily.
‘I still don’t understand how they ended up in my bag,’ she said.
Griner had been prescribed medical marijuana in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries, a treatment method that is common among elite athletes because it has fewer side effects than some painkillers.
She played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the WNBA off-season.
As part of the deal, the White House proposed swapping Whelan and Griner, but not Mark Fogel – a teacher who was incarcerated in Russia in 2021 on suspicion of drug smuggling.
His family have begged the Biden administration for help. Many have called for Griner’s release on the basis that marijuana is legal in the US.