Brittney Griner trial - live: ‘Terrified’ WBNA player writes letter to Biden pleading for freedom from Russia

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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.

Key points

Fellow WNBA star A’Ja Wilson calls for her ‘sister’ Brittney Griner to be released

07:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner’s continued detention has weighed heavily on her fellow WNBA players.

A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces recently had this emotional message about how her “sister” Ms Griner should be released.

Watch below, via ESPN.

‘Bring Brittney Home’ billboard launched at Washington arena

05:45 , Oliver O'Connell

On Friday, a large-scale digital billboard went up outside of Washington, DC’s Capital One Arena, calling for Russia to release Brittney Griner.

“The trial renews concerns for BG’s well-being because it is occurring in another country, under a very different legal system, which most of us know little about,” sports journalist Tamryn Spruill said in a press release. “What inspires hope, though, is the steady stream of public support and media interest. Now, we’ve reached new heights, with these billboards going up at this very critical juncture. When people look up at them, I want them to see their partners, their daughters, their sisters, and their friends. Mostly, I want them to see themselves. Because none of us is free until all of us are free.”

Nearly 300,000 have signed a Change.org petition calling for the WNBA star to be released.

Brittney Griner named honourary team member ahead of All-Star Game

03:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner has been named an honourary member of the WNBA All-Star team ahead of the league’s upcoming All-Star Game, which is set to take place on 10 July.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelberg said there is “no doubt” the Phoenix Mercury hoops star would be on the team if she was not detained in Russia.

“It is not difficult to imagine that if BG were here with us this season, she would once again be selected,” Ms Engelberg said in a statement.

Ms Griner, has been on the all-league team every year since entering the WNBA in 2013.

Former US ambassador to Russia calls attention to other detained Americans

01:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul says Brittney Griner is a victim of Vladimir “Putin’s evil authoritarian regime,” and the diplomat is urging the public to remember she’s not the only one.

On Friday, Mr McFaul called attention to Paul Whelen and Marc Fogel, who have been held in Russia on espionage and drug charges, respectively.

“Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel must all be brought home,” the former ambassador wrote on Twitter.

When is Brittney Griner back in court?

Monday 4 July 2022 23:45 , Oliver O'Connell

The drug trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner is underway in Russia.

On Friday, Ms Griner appeared in court and was put inside a cage during the proceedings, as prosecutors accused her of moving a “significant amount” of Cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow-area airport this February.

Her next court date is 7 July, at 2.30 pm in Khimki, a Moscow suburb.

Griner writes to Biden pleading for help in obtaining freedom from Russia

Monday 4 July 2022 23:12 , Oliver O'Connell

WNBA player Brittney Griner has written a letter to President Joe Biden pleading for help in freeing her from jail in Russia.

Ms Griner was detained in February by Russian authorities after customs officials allegedly found cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

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.”

Brittney Griner appeals to Joe Biden for help obtaining freedom from Russia

Journalist held hostage by Iranians slams US response to Griner case

Monday 4 July 2022 22:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Jason Rezaian knows a thing or two about international hostage situations.

The former Tehran bureau chief of the Washington Post was held for nearly two years in Iranian prison on trumped up espionage charges until being released in 2016.

Earlier this year, he slammed how the US has been responding to the Brittney Griner case.

As he wrote in March:

The U.S. government needs a more robust response to these cases. It should make clear that, if a detention of an American is found to be politically motivated, there will be swift and severe consequences. The current, long-standing public approach of responding in a diplomatic and noncommittal tone, lest we further agitate the hostage-taking states, actually ensures the opposite: It leaves our citizens languishing in prison, often for years, and signals to offenders that they can get away with it.

Critically, the United States must begin to view state hostage-taking as a serial crime perpetrated by the same actors and develop effective and credible deterrents.

Dozens of groups call for Brittney Griner’s release

Monday 4 July 2022 21:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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:

40-plus organisations call on Biden to step up efforts to free Brittney Griner

Griner writes letter to Biden pleading for help

Monday 4 July 2022 21:26 , Oliver O'Connell

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?

Monday 4 July 2022 20:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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:

What happened to WNBA star Brittney Griner?

Brittney Griner’s wife says 6’9” WBNA star forced into tiny cage for journeys to court

Monday 4 July 2022 19:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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

Monday 4 July 2022 18:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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?

Monday 4 July 2022 17:45 , Oliver O'Connell

WNBA star Brittney Griner was on her way to Russia to play basketball when customs officials allegedly discovered contraband in her bag.

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?

What is hashish oil and how did it land Brittney Griner in a Russian courtroom?

Case comes at low point in US-Russia relations

Monday 4 July 2022 16:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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.

AP

Brittney Griner’s wife breaks silence on her Russia detention

Monday 4 July 2022 15:45 , Josh Marcus

The wife of women’s basketball player Brittney Griner has welcomed news of the release of another American, Trevor Reed, from Russia as part of a prisoner swap.

Cherelle Griner, who is married to the WNBA player imprisoned in Russia, said she felt “joy”as Trevor Reed, a former US Marine, was freed.

Gino Spocchia has the story.

Brittney Griner’s wife breaks silence on her Russia detention

What has Russia said about Brittney Griner?

Monday 4 July 2022 13:45 , Josh Marcus

Russia has defend the arrest of US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, pushing back on claims by the Biden administration that her detention in the country is “illegal”.

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.”

Russia defends arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner: ‘She was caught red-handed’

Brittney Griner’s sister pleads for Russia to ignore politics and free her

Monday 4 July 2022 11:45 , Josh Marcus

The family of Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Brittney Griner has asked president Joe Biden to do “whatever necessary” to get her released from detainment in Russia.

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.

Brittney Griner’s sister pleads for Russia to ignore politics and free her

WATCH: Oscar winner calls for Brittney Griner's release

Monday 4 July 2022 09:45 , Josh Marcus

Calls to bring Brittney Griner home have come from all across US society, including the Oscars.

In May, Ben Proudfoot, the director of Queen of Basketball, a documentary short about Hall of Fame player Lusia Harris, called on Joe Biden to save the WNBA star.

Here’s what he said.

Brittney Griner: Outrage grows as Russia keeps holding WNBA star

Monday 4 July 2022 08:45 , Josh Marcus

Outrage is growing on social media as Russian authorities continue to detain WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Officials with the ​​Russian Federal Customs Service announced that they arrested the “two-time Olympic basketball champion in the US team” at some point in February, claiming they found hashish oil-filled vape cartridges in her luggage.

“What a nightmare scenario. I cannot even imagine what she must be feeling [right now],” New York Times columnist Roxane Gay tweeted.

Outrage grows after Russia detains WNBA star Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner chosen as honorary WNBA All-Star starter

Monday 4 July 2022 06:45 , Josh Marcus

Brittney Griner will have a place at the WNBA All-Star Game, being named an honorary starter by Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 after authorities at an airport outside of Moscow said she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her bag.

“During each season of Brittney’s career in which there has been an All-Star Game, she has been selected as an All-Star,” Engelbert said. “It is not difficult to imagine that if BG were here with us this season, she would once again be selected and would, no doubt, show off her incredible talents. So, it is only fitting that she be named as an honorary starter today and we continue to work on her safe return to the U.S.”

Read the full story.

Brittney Griner chosen as honorary WNBA All-Star starter

Brittney Griner ‘only playing’ in Russia due to gender pay gap, says US teammates

Monday 4 July 2022 04:45 , Josh Marcus

Basketball star Brittney Griner - who appeared in a court in Moscow this week - was only playing in Russia because of the low wages paid to women athletes in the US, which her friends and colleagues say make it tough to make a living.

Griner, 31, who was brought to a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki in handcuffs, has been charged with drug smuggling after she was arrested at an airport allegedly carrying cannabis oil in her luggage. She faces up to ten years in jail if convicted.

Her supporters say she is the victim of wrongful arrest and have called on President Joe Biden and others to press for her release. She was detained one week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, told CNN she’s struggled to keep her composure, while urging the US authorities to do more.

Andrew Buncombe has more.

Brittney Griner ‘only playing’ in Russia due to gender pay gap, says US teammates

ICYMI: What happened to WNBA star Brittney Griner?

Monday 4 July 2022 03:45 , Josh Marcus

WNBA star Brittney Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since February after drugs were allegedly found in her luggage by officials at a Moscow airport.

Her detainment occurred shortly before Russia launched its war in Ukraine, with geopolitical tensions making it undoubtedly more difficult to secure her release.

Ms Griner’s family, friends and fans — alongside many public figures — have been calling on Russia to free her for months and for the US State Department to intervene.

Her trial began on Friday (1 July), days after a court ordered her detainment be extended until December.

Here’s everything we know about the ordeal:

What happened to WNBA star Brittney Griner?

Brittney Griner wouldn’t be in Russia if WNBA paid better

Monday 4 July 2022 02:45 , Josh Marcus

Brittney Griner wouldn’t never been arrested while playing in the Russias basketball league over the summer if it wasn’t for the pay disparity between the WNBA and the NBA, according to Boston Globe sports columnist Christopher Gasper.

As he writes, “Griner and other WNBA players are compelled to play in foreign countries to maximize their worth.”

Read his full piece here.

Brittney Griner’s ‘Heart and Sole’ shoe donation programme continues during lockup

Monday 4 July 2022 01:45 , Josh Marcus

Brittney Griner isn’t just known for her high-flying achievements on the court as a member of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

The detained basketball star also started a programme in the city called Heart and Sole that donates shoes to unhoused people walking the hot streets of Arizona barefoot.

Here’s more about the initiative, courtesy of ESPN.

A tale of two Brit(t)neys

Monday 4 July 2022 00:45 , Josh Marcus

Will the Brittney Griner movement turn out the way the Free Brittney did?

That’s a pointed question that’s been raised by Twitter user @ItsDanaWhite.

“Need a world where Brittney Griner gets the movement of support Britney Spears received,” he wrote on Saturday.

Fans spent years pushing for pop star Britney Spears to be released from a highly restrictive financial conservatorship controlled by her father.

Britney Spears thanks fans for #FreeBritney campaign

Martin Luther King, Jr’s daughter weighs in on Brittney Griner case

Sunday 3 July 2022 23:45 , Josh Marcus

Bernice King, daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr, is the latest leader to call for Brittney Griner to be released from prison in Russia.

“I am very concerned about #BrittneyGriner and her holistic well being,” Ms Kind wrote on social media on Saturday. “I urge U.S. government officials, including our State Department, to persist in working diligently to expedite Brittney’s release.”

In Russia, even a social media post can land you in jail

Sunday 3 July 2022 22:45 , Josh Marcus

As the world learns about the Brittney Griner case, another detention in Russia is ongoing that will likely receive far less attention—though it’s just as revealing.

Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko has been in detention since April, after the government accused her of discrediting the Russian armed forces with “fake” Telegram posts about the army killing hundreds of civilian sin Mariupol.

According to her lawyer, she’s been moved to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, where she’s been held largely without contact from the outside world.

Here’s more on how Vladimir Putin is cracking down on social media amid the war in Ukraine.

Russia widens social media crackdown by blocking Instagram

Enes Kanter rips ‘hypocritical’ NBA and laggard US government over Brittney Griner case

Sunday 3 July 2022 21:45 , Josh Marcus

NBA center Enes Kanter Freedom, known for his outspoken criticism of the NBA over its dealings with China, says the league—and the US government—should be doing more for Brittney Griner.

“They definitely need to do more because you’re dealing with, like I said again, one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world,” Mr Kanter told TMZ on Sunday. “Human rights is above politics, so I’m going to do whatever I can to bring awareness and be the voice of all the innocent people who don’t have a voice.”

The NBA center is currently a free agent, and thinks the league is keeping him out in the cold for his stances on politics.

Another detained pro athlete in Russia under murky circumstances

Sunday 3 July 2022 20:45 , Josh Marcus

NHL player Ivan Fedotov is reportedly missing after he was detained in Russia earlier this week and told to register with the Russian army.

“At the moment, there is no connection with Ivan,” his lawyer, Alexei Ponomarev, told state news agency RIA Novosti. “We are investigating the situation. Is it known where he is? Unfortunately no. We are investigating.”

Under Russian law, males between the ages of 18 and 27 must serve a year in the Russian forces, a mandate that’s only gotten more urgent as Vladimir Putin seeks 134,500 conscripts for his invaison of Ukraine.

The Russian-born hockey player reportedly fell ill at the enlistment office in St Petersburg and was hospitalised, according to RIA Novosti.

His lawyer said the player was then taken to Severomorsk, in Russia’s far north.

The goalkeeper said in April he planned to leave Moscow’s CSKA hockey club, and in May he signed a deal with the NHL’s Phildalphia Flyers.

The Russian club claims Mr Fedotov illegally broke his contract.

How a clown emoji sparked a mini-crisis inside Brittney Griner’s home team

Sunday 3 July 2022 19:45 , Josh Marcus

The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury have enough going on as it is, with star player Brittney Griner detained in Russia on drug charges.

They’ve also been dealing with some behind-the-scenes tension in the lockerroom that recently spilled out onto social media.

On Thursday, Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith tweeted a clown emoji in response to a video of coach Vanessa Nygaard.

In the since-deleted video from the team account, Ms Nygaard expressed her shock that fellow Mercury player Diana Taurasi hadn’t been selected for the upcoming WNBA All-Star Game.

“I reiterate that she should be an All-Star,” Ms Nygaard said on Wednesday. “There will be a game in Chicago, but it will not be an All-Star game because Diana Taurasi’s not playing.”

Ms Diggins-Smith, another Phoenix player, made the All-Star squad as a reserve.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Phoenix coach had praised the selection.

“Really, really happy for Skylar, tremendous accomplishment,” she said. “She’s been having a great year statistically across the board for us, and everything she does for us, battling every single game, I’m really happy to see Skylar being named an All-Star. It’s a great testament not just to her, but to our team.”

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