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Brittney Griner trial - live: Wife describes ‘gut-wrenching time’ in rally with Al Sharpton

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Gino Spocchia,Oliver O'Connell
Sunday 10 July 2022 14:15 BST
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WNBA Star Brittney Griner's Supporters Rally For Her Release

More than four months after her arrest in Moscow, US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner has returned to court for the continuation of her trial for drug charges.

The two-time Olympian was led into court at Khimki City in handcuffs, clutching a photo of her wife Cherelle. She was joined by her lawyers and US embassy staff. Only a few journalists are permitted in court.

The charges against her include intentionally transporting narcotics. Facing up to 10 years in prison in Russia, Griner pleaded guilty but added there was no intent to break the law and she had packed in a hurry. She is hoping for leniency from the court.

Griner will give testimony later with the next court hearing scheduled for 14 July. Elizabeth Rood of the US Embassy was able to speak with her in court and share with her a letter from President Joe Biden.

A centre for the Phoenix Mercury, Griner had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, Griner was arrested when Russian airport security say they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage.

Russian officials have said Griner can seek clemency or appeal after any verdict is handed down.

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Griner could face 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to drugs charges

WNBA star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty in a Russian court to drugs charges that could see her sentenced to ten years in prison.

The basketball player returned to court on Thursday to face her trial as a senior Russian diplomat said that US criticism of Russia’s handling of the case wouldn’t help Ms Griner’s possibilities of being released.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Ms Griner said in English. Her words were translated into Russian for the court, Reuters reported.

Gustaf Kilander has the latest.

Brittney Griner could face 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to drugs charges

WNBA star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty in a Russian court to drugs charges that could see her sentenced to ten years in prison.

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 15:30
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Former US envoy to Russia supports idea of Brittney Griner prisoner swap deal

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

‘Ten more years of Victor Bout in jail versus those three Americans staying in jail for a decade, I would take that trade,’ says former US envoy

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 15:40
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Lawyers counting on ‘leniency of Russian court'

Speaking outside of the courtroom, Brittney Griner’s lawyers say their plan now is to count on the leniency of the Russian court given the WNBA star’s guilty plea and statement that she did not intend to break the law by transporting the hash oil, but had been packing in a hurry.

It is hoped that this will speed up a verdict and move negotiations of a possible prisoner swap forward.

MSNBC reports:

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 15:47
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Biden calls Brittney Griner’s wife after she attacked him for failing to help WNBA star

President Biden and vice-president Harris spoke on Wednesday with the wife of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since February.

Ms Griner’s family, including wife Cherelle Griner, have been critical of the White House, saying the president hasn’t done enough to free the Phoenix Mercury player from an unjust detention on minor drug charges.

Josh Marcus reports.

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 16:00
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US prisoner Paul Whelan’s family hit out at Biden for calling Brittney Griner’s wife

The family of Paul Whelan have said they are “astonished” that US President Joe Biden has not spoken to them personally while he remains detained in Russia.

Elizabeth Whelan, the 49-year-old’s sister, said the Biden administration had not spoken with them since May in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

Hours earlier, Mr Biden said he and vice president Kamala Harris had spoken with the wife of the WNBA star Britney Griner amid her trial in Moscow and calls from her supporters for her release.

Gino Spocchia reports.

US prisoner’s family hit out at Biden for calling Brittney Griner’s wife

Sister of former US marine called for ‘functioning process’

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 16:15
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Russian official says no prisoner swap discussions until after trial

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned on Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public ... don’t help the practical settlement of issues.”

The White House said President Joe Biden called Brittney Griner’s wife on Wednesday to assure her that he’s doing all he can to obtain the athlete’s release, as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Griner in which she said she feared she’d never return home.

Washington hasn’t made public its strategy in the case and the United States may have little leverage with Moscow because of strong animosity due to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. The State Department has designated Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Asked about the possibility of Griner being swapped for a Russian jailed in the US, Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”

He warned that U.S. criticism, including a description of Griner as wrongfully detained and dismissive comments about the Russian judicial system, “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussion of any possible exchanges.”

“The persistence with which the US administration ... describes those who were handed prison sentences for serious criminal articles and those who are awaiting the end of investigation and court verdicts as ‘wrongfully detained’ reflects Washington’s refusal to have a sober view of the outside world,” Ryabkov snapped.

The Associated Press

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 16:30
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Russian foreign ministry says Griner may appeal or ask for clemency

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

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 16:45
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Amy Schumer, Kim Kardashian share #FreeBrittneyGriner tag on Instagram

Brittney Griner’s case has attracted the attention of celebrity activists with comedian Amy Schumer, Kim Kardashian, and Lisa Rinna among those appealing for the WNBA star’s freedom.

Schumer posted a screenshot of the two-time Olympian looking shocked as she saw the media waiting for her outside the court during her first pre-trial hearing in Moscow.

The comedian wrote: “Let’s go everybody. This is not okay. #freebrittneygriner now. All hands on deck. Make some noise.”

Fellow actors and celebrities joined her cry for action including Lisa Rinna of The Real Housewives franchise, with an enthusiastic: “Yes!!!!!! We need to get her out of there stat!!!!!”

With today’s court date looming, on Wednesday, Kim Kardashian, who campaigns for prison reform in the US, used Schumer’s original Instagram post adding her own #FreeBrittneyGriner tag, and sent it out to her 323 million followers around the world.

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 16:54
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What is hashish oil?

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 1 July, 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.

But what is it?

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 17:15
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Brittney Griner protest t-shirt not allowed on ‘Today’ show report says

TMZ reports that Macy Gray’s performance on NBC’s Today show was supposed to include a protest about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia, but her keyboard player was told by network bosses it was not going to happen.

Milly Wes was pictured arriving at the network’s studios on Thursday morning in a black t-shirt with the words “FREE BRITNEY GRINER” [sic] emblazoned across the front.

However, when the band appeared on air he was in a plain black t-shirt.

The musician told TMZ he was told to turn the shirt inside out. Macy Gray confirmed that it was planned for him to wear the shirt and that they thought Ms Griner’s situation was really sad.

It is not known what reason was given for the network’s decision.

Oliver O'Connell7 July 2022 18:00

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