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Latest: Brittney Griner situation explained: WNBA star testifies as U.S. reportedly makes prisoner swap offer

She was apprehended in Russia on February 17 for allegedly smuggling marijuana concentrate into the country, according to Russian media reports.

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Brittney Griner REUTERS TT 05 1
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One of the most celebrated women’s basketball players in the world, Brittney Griner, has admitted to drug possession in Russia. Since her detention at Sheremetyevo International Airport in February, she has been held in Russian custody. Vape cartridges containing marijuana concentrate hashish oil, according to the Russian Federal Customs Service, were discovered in Griner’s luggage.

For “large-scale trafficking of drugs,” the New York Times reports that Griner, 31, is facing a term of up to 10 years in prison. Her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, and the WNBPA all published statements of support in early March, and the WNBA made her an honorary All-Star in June.

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U.S. arms trafficker Viktor Bout has been offered as part of a possible deal to free Griner and Paul Whelan from Russian custody, CNN reported on July 27. On the same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly stated that the U.S. government had put a “serious proposition” on the table, but he did not corroborate allegations that Bout had been named as a target.

The opening day of Griner’s trial also occurred on July 27. That day she was arrested, she described how she had to utilize a translation software on her phone to interact with customs officers because the interpreter couldn’t provide a comprehensive translation. During the course of the signing process, Griner claims she was not given any information about her legal options, including the ability to consult an attorney.

Griner told CBS News, “Nobody explained anything to me.”

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Griner’s defense team shifted their focus to the medical benefits of cannabis the day before her testimony. This is all the more reason to believe that Griner did not want to do anything illegal when she mistakenly packed it into her suitcase. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova allegedly stated that the legalization of marijuana in the United States has no consequence on Russian regulations.

Despite the fact that she was supposed to testify on July 14, Griner did not appear in court that day. Griner, on the other hand, had two character witnesses to rely on for support. Griner’s Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg director Maxim Rybakov was one of the two people who attended the event.

“Brittney has always been a really wonderful teammate, so my duty here is just to be with her, to encourage her,” Beliakova said in an interview with AP. “We’re all missing her zest for life. Thank goodness this trial is coming to an end, because I was delighted to see her again.”

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That’s what Rybakov told the media. Since February, he hadn’t seen Griner in person. He remarked that she appeared to be in good spirits.

More than four months after she was detained, Griner pleaded guilty to narcotics charges in a Russian court on July 7. Griner, though, maintains that she had no intention of breaking the law, notwithstanding her plea.

“Your honor, I’d like to admit my guilt. However, no malice was intended. The law wasn’t something I wanted to break “According to Reuters, Griner spoke in English, which was subsequently translated into Russian for use in the courtroom. “I’d prefer to present my account of events at a later date. I’ll need some time to plan.”

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It appears that Griner’s plea is strategic, given that she may face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. Since acquittals in Russian criminal trials can be overturned, Griner’s chances of avoiding prison with a not guilty plea were limited. CBS News reports that less than 1% of defendants are acquitted in Russian criminal cases.

While admitting your guilt and hoping for a less punishment is often the best defense, it’s not always possible to do so, according to an expert on Russian law and a director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Getting acquitted while putting up a solid defense is rare, according to the author.

New York Times reports that Griner’s guilty plea could lead to a prisoner swap between Russia and the United States. If that does happen, the next step in Griner’s case will likely take place on July 14, when she appears in court again.

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Griner submitted a letter to the White House on July 4 requesting that President Joe Biden grant her freedom. She said that she missed her family and teammates, adding that she spent the Fourth of July vacation pondering the meaning of liberty.

Because freedom means something completely different to Griner this year, “it stings thinking about how I typically celebrate this day,” Griner wrote in his essay.

Two days later, Cherelle Griner, Griner’s wife, spoke with Biden and Harris. When it comes to bringing Griner back to the United States, Biden pledged his administration’s support for the Griner family in a statement provided by the White House.

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Exactly 130 days after she was detained, Griner began her criminal trial on July 1. TAS reported that Griner claimed in court that she was aware of the charges against her but declined to comment on them at the time. An airport customs official and an unidentified witness were questioned by the prosecution on the first day of the trial, but only the former spoke in open court, according to the Russian news agency, RIA-Novosti.

Two witnesses’ absence necessitated the adjournment of the trial, which will continue on July 7th, according to RIA-Novosti. It took Alexander Boykov a few days after the first day to feel comfortable discussing his client’s case with Griner.

When asked about the case and the charges, Boykov said, “I would not want to talk about it since it is too early for it,” according to ESPN.

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Griner’s pretrial custody was reportedly prolonged by six months earlier this week, marking the fourth time the defendant has seen her sentence extended. Pre-trial detention for Griner was scheduled to end on July 2, according to TASS. At this point, Griner’s imprisonment had been extended thrice.

The Mercury met with State Department officials the day before the announcement of Griner’s third extension, according to the AP. Taurasi stated in a statement that the Mercury’s goal is to bring Griner home.

Taurasi stated, “They’re working around the clock to get her back home and safe.” “As a team, we will do everything we can to keep BG in the spotlight, as it is more important than any basketball game or other event in our lives. We are eagerly anticipating BG’s return. It’s the top of the heap for us.”

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Throughout Griner’s detention, the WNBA has shown its unwavering support for her. To put it another way, Griner has gotten hundreds of emails and letters from other players, according to an AP report dated June 2. The WNBA Players’ Union has shared Griner’s correspondence with its members through text messaging, but it has not been made public.

Before Griner reads the emails and letters she receives from Russia, she must react in writing or via dictation.

“In her letters, she likes to make fun of herself. Considering everything she’s going through, I’m baffled as to how she manages. She has a wonderful spirit “Amanda Zahui B., a forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, is one of a number of WNBA players who have been in contact with Griner while she has been detained. “A scenario like this calls for her to bring some light to it. I’m not sure many individuals would be able to accomplish that.”

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To defend Griner, the United States government announced on May 3 that she had been “wrongfully arrested” and that it was working with former United States ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, an international hostage negotiator with years of expertise. It’s no longer necessary to wait for Griner’s Russian trial to end before negotiating her repatriation now that she’s been given a new designation by the United States government.

US citizen Brittney Griner has been wrongfully arrested by the Russian Federation, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed to ESPN. Carstens will lead an interagency effort to secure the release of Brittney Griner as a result of this determination.”

A U.S. consulate officer spoke with Griner on May 19 and reported that Griner was “continue to do as well as might be expected under these extraordinarily hard circumstances,” according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price. Griner had already been seen the week before, and now Price wants even more access.

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Our message is simple: We continue to demand that Russia grant consistent and timely access to all detained U.S. citizens,” Price said on ABC News. If Moscow fails to maintain its obligations under the Vienna Convention for regular and prompt access, we will keep pressing it.

On May 25, Cherelle Griner appeared on “Good Morning America” to discuss the case and revealed that she and her wife haven’t spoken in over 100 days because her wife’s phone was confiscated shortly after she was brought into jail by the police. As a result, they’ve only exchanged letters “sporadically” since.

During the interview, Cherelle Griner also requested a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.

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“It seems like I keep hearing that he’s got the power, you know. She’s just a pawn in the game of politics “she stated. I want you to do whatever it is that they want you to do, if they’re holding her because they want you to do something.

Griner is supported by more than just the United States government. On May 17, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver revealed that he and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert are working “side by side” to secure Griner’s release during an interview at the NBA Draft Lottery. Since then, Silver has been in touch with “every level” of government, thanks to the process.

In an interview with ESPN, Silver said, “We’ve been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, and every level of government.” Keeping her safe and out of Russia is our top priority, and we will do everything we can to help her.

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On March 5, Russian customs released a video showing Griner attempting to pass through airport screening, but they did not identify the former Baylor star by name. This was corroborated by Russian news agency TASS, which posted an undated photo of Griner in a police station later that day. Reportedly detained on Feb. 17 was two-time Olympic gold medalist

A Moscow court, as reported by TASS on March 17, extended her pre-trial custody until May 19, according to the publication. In addition, Griner was granted house arrest, as reported by Insider. According to a TASS source, Griner, who stands at 6’9″, has complained that the mattresses in her prison cell are too tiny for her. She shares a cell with two other English-speaking detainees, both of whom are supposedly being held for “drug-related articles,” according to NBC.

When Griner learnt that her pretrial custody had been prolonged until June 18, she made a brief appearance in a Russian courtroom on May 13. Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boykov, tells the AP that the short period of the extension suggests that his client will soon be put on trial. It’s not apparent whether or not the issue of the bed size has been settled, though, according to Griner’s lawyer.

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Russia’s Public Monitoring Commission official Ekaterina Kalugina said on March 18 that the U.S. consul had not yet visited Griner. According to Kalugina, this is in spite of Russian officials claiming they would “create all conditions” to allow a visit to take place.

Soon after, things began to shift for the better. Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told CNN on March 22 that a U.S. Embassy official had been granted “consular access” to Griner, allowing them to assess her status.

Our official discovered Brittney Griner in good health, and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure she is treated fairly throughout this experience,” Price added.

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US embassy in Moscow “repeatedly asked” to meet with Griner shortly after his detention, but was “consistently” denied access, according to a statement released by the Russian government. American Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan then ordered the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “respect international law and fundamental human decency to provide consular access to all U.S citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention.”

Following Russian’s full-scale military strike on Ukraine on February 24, the United States and other countries imposed harsh sanctions on the country. Detaining Griner, who has spent the last few WNBA offseasons playing in Russia’s Premier League for UMMC Ekaterinburg, is still an open question.

In any case, the U.S. government intends to start a “drawn-out campaign” to get Griner back home.

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What were the immediate reactions of American politicians?
Politicians in the United States were slow to react to Griner’s plight initially due to privacy concerns. While three members of Congress from Griner’s native state of Texas lent their support, it was not enough.

He stated he was personally working with State Department officials to expedite Griner’s return to the United States, and he is a member of House Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s “very alarming,” according to Allred.

Every day for those being held overseas is a lifetime for Allred, a former NFL linebacker who attended Baylor University in the early 2000s. “I understand how tough this must be for her friends and family. And I’m sure the stress of not knowing what’s going on is excruciating for her. Our goal is to get her out of here as quickly as possible, no matter what.”

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Griner’s Russian incarceration is being “closely monitored” by Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, who tweeted that he wants her “safely returned.”

Russian detention and imprisoning of American Americans “is a pattern,” Castro stated in a March 5 blog post. “… Americans are not political pawns in this country.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas echoed Castro’s sentiments in her remarks. Jackson Lee made a public plea for Griner’s release and stated she had asked the State Department to prioritise her case in front of a large crowd.

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A diplomatic solution should be found to the issue of her acts, according to Jackson Lee, who called for her immediate release.

In the immediate aftermath of Griner’s incarceration, both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House press secretary Jen Psaki refused to publicly comment on the incident, citing privacy concerns. According to Psaki, a detainee’s written agreement is required for the U.S. government to disclose their status.

“We are doing everything we can,” according to Blinken, to ensure that the rights of all Americans jailed in Russia are “upheld and protected.”

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“We of course stand ready to provide all conceivable support whenever an American is arrested anywhere in the globe, and that includes in Russia,” Blinken said on March 6.

According to California congressman John Garamendi, assistance will be difficult to come by in Griner’s situation. It will be “extremely difficult,” according to Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, to secure her release because of the “nonexistent” diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia.

A CNN interview with Garamendi in March stated that “our diplomatic contacts with Russia at the time are nonexistent”. “She might be able to offer some insight during the numerous negotiations that are likely to take place. How can I tell?”

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Garamendi chimed in to say Because Griner is a lesbian, “Russia has some very, very stringent LGBT norms and laws,” the procedure could be even more difficult.

While it’s unclear if Russia held Griner in order to provoke the United States, the State Department issued an updated advice on March 5 urging American people to leave Russia immediately in order to escape the “potential for harassment.

In Russia, why was Griner?
Approximately 70 WNBA players — or about half of the league’s 144 available roster spots — will represent the league overseas in 2022. She was also one of the more than a dozen musicians performing in Russia or Ukraine — all save Griner having since gone. Ekaterinburg features five WNBA All-Stars on its current roster, including Griner, Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart and Allie Quigley.

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For a variety of reasons, Griner and his teammates travel the world to compete, although many do so for financial gain. It costs $60,471 to play in the WNBA at the entry level and $228,094 to play at the highest level. The NBA has a minimum pay of $925,000 and a maximum compensation of more than $28 million, whereas the WNBA has a minimum salary of $75,000 and a maximum income of $150,000.

According to Brittney Griner’s sister, Cherelle, the WNBA’s wage is a factor in her decision to play overseas. UMMC Ekaterinburg reportedly pays Griner $1 million per season.

Cherelle Griner told ABC News on May 25 that “BG would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas.” “After nine years as a professional, she has only spent one Thanksgiving in the United States. She now regrets not taking advantage of more opportunities to visit the States. Due to the fact that her salary in the WNBA is so low that she can’t afford it.”

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A contract worth an estimated $1.5 million from UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2015, which would have kept Diana Taurasi out of the 2015 WNBA season, was forced on her by the WNBA’s low pay.

Women’s basketball is a year-round sport, and the financial opportunity with my club in Russia would have been foolish to turn down,” Taurasi stated in an open letter to her supporters, according to CBS Sports. “To their credit, they offered to pay for my time off, so I’m taking them up on it. When I’m done with sports, I want to be able to provide for my family and myself.”

First time above six figures: The WNBA and WNBPA signed a new eight-year CBA in 2020 that will bring the average wage to nearly $130,000. The maximum pay for the WNBA was $117,500 in the previous year.

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