Brittney Griner: Russian trial of American basketball star begins

Griner, 31, a Phoenix Mercury player who plays in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason, was arrested February 17 at a Moscow airport.

Russian authorities accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Griner is currently being kept at a pre-trial detention center north of Moscow. Her detention has been extended for six months pending the trial’s outcome, according to her lawyer.

Earlier this week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated that Griner is “wrongfully detained, unjustly detained and we have made that clear as an official determination of the US government.”

Charge d’Affaires of the US embassy Elizabeth Rood was also seen on Friday arriving at court for Griner’s hearing.

No verdict is expected on the first day of her trial, which is taking place at the Khimki city court, outside the Russian capital.

Griner’s supporters have expressed concern that the basketball star might be used as a political pawn, given rising tensions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked a wave of support among dozens of organizations in the US that have joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in urging President Joe Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home safely as soon as possible.

When speaking to reporters on Air Force One earlier this week, Sullivan declined to detail US efforts to resolve Griner’s case, citing the “sensitive matter,” but maintained that the Biden administration is “actively engaged.”

Griner was named an honorary WNBA All-Star Game starter last week, with the All-Star Game scheduled to take place on July 10 in Chicago. Her detention is still “tough on our team,” Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters before the team’s game Monday against the Indiana Fever.

She expressed hope Griner will return home soon and that President Biden will “take the steps to ensure that she comes home.”

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