The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Brittney Griner Appears in Russian Court for First Day of Trial

Brittney Griner in Moscow court

In a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and towering over those in the room, WNBA champion Brittney Griner faced day one of her trial in Russia on Friday. The basketball star and Olympic gold medalist has been charged with drug offenses.

Griner, 31, has been in Russian custody since February — only days before Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, Russian media have reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin could exchange her for an arms dealer, the New York Times reports.

The out player was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17. Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, had flown to Russia to play for a Russian league during the WNBA’s off-season.

After several weeks in jail, the U.S. government classified her as wrongfully detained.

The Times notes that while Russia’s drug laws carry extreme punishments, foreigners found with small amounts of drugs — like the 0.7 grams of cannabis oil Griner is accused of carrying in vape cartridges — are usually sentenced to a month in jail, given a fine, and are kicked out of the country. However, the Russian government is also known for using foreign prisoners as bargaining chips to free Russian citizens locked up abroad.

"Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed...no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams," the prosecutor told the court Friday, according to a TASS reporter in the hall of the Khimki City Court and reported by CNN.

TASS is the Russian state media agency.

The next court hearing for Griner is scheduled for July 7.

Griner didn’t speak during Friday’s hearing. Her lawyers said, “She has the right to do so later.”

The U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Elizabeth Rood emphasized at the hearing that Griner was wrongfully detained, according to CNN. She 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."

Rood and Griner spoke in court.

“She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith,” Rood said. “The U.S. government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US nationals home.”

From the WNBA to the NBA, organizations across the U.S. have shown support for Griner over her time in detention.

In an interview Thursday, her wife, Cherelle Griner, said the Biden administration should do more to secure her release.

"It's really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action," Griner’s wife said. "I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they're telling me is also matching their actions and so it's been the hardest thing to balance because I can't let up. It's over 130 days and BG's still not back."

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that Griner’s case is politically motivated.

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