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Why has Brittney Griner been detained in Russia?

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February 2022.

Russian courts sentenced her to nine years in prison on August 4 on drug smuggling charges for bringing hashish oil into the country.

Brittney Griner is a WNBA star

Who is Brittney Griner?

Brittney Griner is a professional basketball player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury who was born on October 18, 1990, in Houston, Texas.

She first rose to fame playing in the NCAA for the Baylor Lady Bears, where she became the only player in history to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots.

Following her successful collegiate career, she went on to play in the WNBA and the Russian Premier League.

Players often compete overseas because they can earn over $1million; compared to the WNBA’s maximum base salary of $228,000, according to NBC News.

She also married Cherelle Griner, who graduated with her JD from North Carolina Central University Law School on May 7, 2022.

Why is Brittney Griner being detained in Russia?

Griner was heading back to New York in February 2022 when she was stopped at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after a scan revealed that she had cartridges containing liquid with hashish oil, according to ESPN.

As a result, a criminal case was opened and she was arrested.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement to Yahoo! Sports: “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA.

“As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

As the news started to spread, a number of celebrities, athletes, and politicians took to social media to call for the star’s safe return home.

On March 17, 2022, her detention was extended to May 19, but after a court hearing on May 13, Russian authorities extended it another 30 days and denied her request for house arrest, ESPN reported.

The extension came just weeks after the Biden administration classified her status as being “wrongfully detained.”

In July 2022, Griner’s case headed to trial, and shortly after, she pleaded guilty.

However, in Russia, trials still continue even if a defendant has admitted guilt.

One month later, she was found guilty of the charges against her and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on August 4, 2022

Before the plea was read, Griner addressed the court, stating that she “never meant to break any law” in Russia by having vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her possession.

“I know everybody keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” Griner said, via ESPN.

She then went on to apologize for the embarrassment her arrest has caused.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans, and the city of [Yekaterinburg] for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said.

“I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”

When will Brittney Griner return to the US?

Griner’s guilty plea sparked outrage amongst Americans, but some experts say it was part of a strategy to bring her back to the United States.

On July 28, 2022, Paul Whelan, who are both classified as wrongfully detained.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference that Biden was “directly involved” and signed off on the proposal. 

Griner appealed to the Russian court to reduce her sentence on drug smuggling charges, but her plea was denied on October 25, 2022.

Her lawyers said Griner “did not expect any miracles to happen,” and it is unclear if they have exhausted all their legal options.

“Brittney is a very strong person and has a champion’s character,” Griner’s lawyers said in a statement on October 24.

“She of course has her highs and lows as she is severely stressed being separated from her loved ones for over eight months.”

The remaining hope is Biden will be able to negotiate Griner’s release in exchange for Russian prisoners.

The president >statement after Griner was convicted in August saying he will “continue to work tirelessly” to bring Griner and Whelan home.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said at the time.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he added.

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