Brittney Griner trial - live: Biden speaks with WNBA star’s wife as Russia says she can appeal after verdict

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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 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, with US embassy staff in attendance.

The charges against her include 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.

Griner’s wife Cherelle has pleaded for President Joe Biden to secure the WNBA star’s release and after complaining about inaction from the administration was called by the president and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday.

Court proceedings resume on Thursday 7 July, and Russian officials have said Griner can seek clemency or appeal after any verdict is handed down.

Key points

Biden and Harris speak with Brittney’s wife Cherelle

17:29 , Oliver O'Connell

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have spoken with Cherelle Griner following her criticism of the administration for its apparent inaction to free her wife from incarceration in Russia.

Per the White House:

President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, spoke today with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner who is wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world. He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney Griner today.

The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home. Today’s call follows recent calls that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken have had with Cherelle in recent weeks and this past weekend. The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.

UConn star urges Biden to bring ‘hero’ Griner home

17:00 , Oliver O'Connell

UConn women’s basketball star Paige Bueckers is the latest athlete to call on the Biden administration to bring Brittney Griner home.

In an appearance on ESPN’s NBA Today, Ms Bueckers said: “Just a message to President Biden, the government, and anybody with high enough power to help get Brittney Griner back home. I believe it’s way far due for her to come home, and she’s an American. She’s a hero. She’s our sister in the WNBA, and she’s just family to the whole United States. So, just whatever it takes to get her home, I think it’s definitely time.”

Watch below:

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

16:30 , 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?

Report: Biden to respond to Griner letter as soon as today

15:59 , Oliver O'Connell

NBC News reports that President Joe Biden is expected to respond as soon as today to the handwritten letter sent to him by Brittney Griner.

The WNBA star directly appealed to the president for his help in securing her release from jail in Russia on Monday.

The network cited administration officials, who also said that it is not yet clear whether the response will be in writing, through a phone call, or otherwise.

One official told NBC: “He will certainly respond soon.”

Griner’s wife calls out lack of Biden action to free WNBA star from Russia detention

15:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle has said she finds it “very disheartening” that she still has not heard back from the White House after the WNBA star sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden.

Ms Griner appealed directly to the president to help her efforts to win freedom from detention in Russia on alleged drug charges involving hashish oil.

Her family has had no success in contacting the president regarding the issue, which led the Phoenix Mercury centre to write to Mr Biden in person.

Brittney Griner’s wife calls out Biden’s lack of action to free WNBA star from Russia

Former US envoy to Russia supports idea of Brittney Griner prisoner swap deal

14:40 , Oliver O'Connell

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul appeared on MSNBC on Tuesday to discuss Brittney Griner’s letter urging action from President Biden to get her and other Americans detained in Russia back home.

“This is not a terrorist organisation. This is a government, and they should consider this swap. Not just Brittney Griner, as she rightly writes in her letter, but also Paul Whelan and Mark Fogel, another American wrongly detained in Russia,” Mr McFaul told Andrea Mitchell.

Former US ambassador to Russia agrees with idea of Brittney Griner prisoner swap deal

Russian foreign ministry says Griner may appeal or ask for clemency

14:20 , Oliver O'Connell

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia on drugs charges, may appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Alexei Zaitsev said in a briefing: “The court must first deliver its verdict, but no one is stopping Brittney Griner from making use of the appeal procedure, and likewise asking for clemency.”

Mr Zaitsev said: “Attempts to present the case as though the American woman was illegally detained do not stand up to criticism.”

In May, the US State Department designated Ms Griner as “wrongfully detained”.

Ms Griner, who had been playing for a Yekaterinburg-based club during the off-season, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 on drugs charges that carry up to ten years in prison.

Russian official said that cannabis-infused vaporiser cartridges, which are illegal in Russia, had been found in Ms Griner‘s baggage. Her trial began on Friday and continues tomorrow.

Reporting by Reuters

Case comes at low point in US-Russia relations

14:00 , 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

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

13:00 , 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

Recap: What has happened to WNBA star Brittney Griner?

12:00 , 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?

ICYMI: Brittney Griner’s wife breaks silence on her Russia detention

10:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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 might a deal to free Brittney Griner from Russia look like?

08:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner’s supporters have encouraged US authorities to negotiate a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organisation.

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case — which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the US has repeatedly described as a setup.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked on Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition ... I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”

AP

Brittney Griner chosen as honorary WNBA All-Star starter

06:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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

04:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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

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

02:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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

Brittney Griner: Outrage grows as Russia keeps holding WNBA star

Wednesday 6 July 2022 00:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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

What has Russia said about Brittney Griner?

Tuesday 5 July 2022 22:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Russia has defended 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’

White House insists Brittney Griner a ‘priority’

Tuesday 5 July 2022 21:30 , Oliver O'Connell

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday said the case of WNBA star and US olympian Brittney Griner’s continued detention in Russia is “a priority” for President Joe Biden and his administration after a letter from the basketball player to Mr Biden was made public by Ms Griner’s family.

“This is an issue that is a priority for this President,” said Ms Jean-Pierre, who noted that the US has classified Ms Griner as being “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.

Andrew Feinberg reports.

Biden won’t meet Brittney Griner’s family but White House insists she’s a ‘priority’

State Department not commenting in any detail on Griner case

Tuesday 5 July 2022 21:10 , Oliver O'Connell

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price says the US is not in a position to comment publicly “in any detail” on Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia: “We do not want to say anything that would potentially jeopardise the chances of seeing an American released.”

Tuesday 5 July 2022 20:57 , Oliver O'Connell

Asked about the criticism the administration has faced regarding its response to Ms Griner’s situation, Ms Jean-Pierre replies that they will do the same work they did when Trevor Reed was freed.

Biden has read letter, US will use ‘every tool’ to get Griner out of Russia

Tuesday 5 July 2022 20:40 , Oliver O'Connell

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says President Joe Biden has read Brittney Griner’s handwritten letter to him.

“The president did read the letter. I was there when he read the letter.”

She adds that Ms Griner is being “wrongfully detained,” and “this is an issue that is a priority for this president.”

Ms Jean-Pierre says the government will use “every tool” to try to get her out of detention in Russia.

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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 20:30 , Oliver O'Connell

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.

Former US ambassador to Russia agrees with prisoner swap idea

Tuesday 5 July 2022 19:34 , Oliver O'Connell

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul appeared an MSNBC today to discuss Brittney Griner’s letter urging action from President Biden to get her and other Americans illegally detained in Russia back home.

“This is not a terrorist organization. This is a government, and they should consider this swap. Not just Brittney Griner, as she rightly writes in her letter, but also Paul Whelan and Mark Fogel, another American wrongly detained in Russia,” Mr McFaul told Andrea Mitchell.

It has been floated that international arms dealer Victor Bout, currently detained by the US, could be traded for the three Americans.

“Ten more years of Victor Bout in jail versus those three Americans staying in jail for a decade, I would take that trade,” adds Mr McFaul.

A tale of two Brit(t)neys

Tuesday 5 July 2022 19:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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

‘I will not be quiet anymore’

Tuesday 5 July 2022 18:00 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle has said she finds it “very disheartening” that she still has not heard back from the White House after the WNBA star sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden.

Ms Griner appealed directly to the president to help her efforts to win freedom from detention in Russia on alleged drug charges involving hashish oil.

Her family has had no success in contacting the president regarding the issue, which led the Phoenix Mercury centre to write to Mr Biden in person.

Brittney Griner’s wife calls out Biden’s lack of action to free WNBA star from Russia

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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 17:00 , Oliver O'Connell

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.”

Another detained pro athlete in Russia under murky circumstances

Tuesday 5 July 2022 15:45 , Oliver O'Connell

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.

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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 14:30 , 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

‘Very disheartening’ White House has not responded to Brittney’s letter to Biden

Tuesday 5 July 2022 14:12 , Oliver O'Connell

Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle told CBS News this morning that it is “very disheartening” that she still has not heard back from the White House after Brittney wrote a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden.

The WNBA star made a direct appeal to the president for help to secure her release from prison in Russia, and for other Americans detained there.

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

Why the Brittney Griner case is a ‘sham trial’

Tuesday 5 July 2022 13:45 , Oliver O'Connell

The Brittney Griner case isn’t a normal court proceeding—it’s a “sham trial” that is “designed to create negotiating leverage,” argues ESPN commentator TJ Quinn in a new video.

“And how do we know it’s a sham trial?” he added on Twitter on Sunday. “Because Russia has offered to trade her. Once you’re negotiating over someone they’re no longer a defendant, they’re a hostage. Everything else is theater.”

Is the US leaving Brittney Griner behind because she is Black?

Tuesday 5 July 2022 11:45 , Oliver O'Connell

Would Brittney Griner have gotten more support from the US government if she weren’t Black?

Commentator Michael Smith argued on MSNBC on Saturday the Biden administration hasn’t done enough to get behind the jailed WNBA star’s case.

“The United States claims to be prioritizing her situation,” Mr Smith said. “And I will take the U.S. Government at its word, but my fear is that Russia may value this Black woman more than the United States does.”

Watch his full comments below.

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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 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

Tuesday 5 July 2022 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.”