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More than four months after her arrest in Moscow, US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Friday for what was expected to be the beginning of her trial on drug charges.
The 31-year-old athlete was seen arriving at Khimki City Court outside of Moscow in handcuffs shortly after noon local time, with US embassy staff in attendance.
She then heard her charges, including intentionally transporting narcotics. Facing up to 10 years in prison in Russia, Griner accepted the charges and did not enter a plea, reports said.
A centre for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, and was arrested on her way home when Russian airport officials say they found vape cartridges with traces of hashish oil – an offence in the country.
Lawyers for Griner – whose wife has pleaded for US President Joe Biden to meet with her and secure the WNBA’s star release – believe the trial will last two months, reports say. Proceedings resume on Thursday 7 July.
Dozens of groups call for Brittney Griner’s release
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and a range other human rights, LGBTQ+ and sporting organisations have written a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris calling on the Biden administration to do more for Brittney Griner’s release.
Abe Asher has more:
The WNBA star has been detained in Russia since February
Griner writes letter to Biden pleading for help
Brittney Griner has written a letter to President Joe Biden pleading for help in freeing her from jail in Russia.
In excerpts shared by her representatives, she writes: “As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.”
In another portion, she tells the president: “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
She further says: “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you.”
Ms Griner adds: “I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Recap: What has happened to WNBA star Brittney Griner?
As WNBA star Brittney Griner waits for her trial in Russia to resume, catch up on the details of the case and how US authorities are responding to her detainment:
Ms Griner has been detained in Russia for five months and counting
Brittney Griner’s wife says 6’9” WBNA star forced into tiny cage for journeys to court
Brittney Griner’s wife says the WBNA she is forced into a tiny cage and driven for five hours every time she has to appear in court.
Cherelle Griner told CNN’s New Day on Thursday that her 6 feet and 9 inches tall wife has to endure a five-hour round trip from where is being detained to court, during which she is kept in a small cage and forced to bend her body to fit inside.
Cherelle said Brittney, also known as BG, told her she was “exhausted”.
”So BG is having to travel over five hours round trip when she goes to court in a very, very, very tiny cage with her knees bent, feet up to the ground because it’s not big enough for her to fit in.”
What charges does Brittney Griner face at trial
A report by Russian news agency TASS details the charges against Brittney Griner as read out in court today.
“Being quite aware that it is banned to carry narcotic substances in the Eurasian Economic Union, she bought two cartridges holding 0.252 and 0.45 grams of cannabis oil, or 0.702 grams in total, for personal consumption from an unidentified person in an unidentified location and under unidentified circumstances but not later than February 17, 2022,” the prosecutor said, adding that later Griner put the prohibited substances in her backpack and suitcase in a bid to smuggle the drugs into Russia.
What is hashish oil and how did it land Brittney Griner in a Russian courtroom?
According to the Russians, Mr Griner allegedly packed hashish oil in her bag, likely in the form of a vape.
It was that discovery that led to her now five month detention in Russia. On Friday, Ms Griner appeared in Russian court for the first time and faced charges of smuggling less than a gram of hash oil inside of her luggage. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
But what is it?
Ms Griner’s appeared for her first court hearing on Friday
Case comes at low point in US-Russia relations
Brittney Griner’s case comes at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already high tensions between the two countries. The US then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia denounced the U. for sending weapons to Ukraine.
Elizabeth Rood, US charge d’affaires in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke with Griner, who “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”
“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Ms Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”
She said the US government, from its highest levels, “is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home safely.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution.
“The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances,” Mr Peskov told reporters.
“In view of what I’ve said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.
Griner’s supporters had kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the US government’s chief negotiator.
Brittney Griner’s wife breaks silence on her Russia detention
Gino Spocchia has the story.
Phoenix Mercury player was detained by Moscow officials in February
What has Russia said about Brittney Griner?
In a statement, Russian authorities said 31-year-old Ms Griner was detained by Moscow police in February based on “objective facts and evidence”.
“She was caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil,” the statement, issued by Rusia’s foreign ministry to CNN, said. “In Russia, this is a crime.”
Comments came ahead of detention hearing in Moscow for Olympic gold medalist
Brittney Griner’s sister pleads for Russia to ignore politics and free her
The two-time Olympic medalist was detained in Russia in February on allegations that she was bringing marijuana through a Moscow-area airport. The Phoenix Mercury player competed in European leagues during the WNBA offseason, with that being the reason for her travel to Russia.
“My sister has been wrongfully detained in Russia for over 100 days now,” the player’s sister Shekera Griner said in an emotional video.
“To many of you, Brittney is affectionately known as BG, the WNBA star, the gold-medalist. To us, she is a daughter, she is a sister, she is an aunt, she is a cousin, she’s a niece, she is a wife,” she added.
Alisha Rahaman Sarkar has the details.
Griner was detained on allegations that they were bringing marijuana into Russia