Phoenix Mercury’s All-Star center Brittney Griner began her trial on Friday in Moscow. She was arrested on Feb. 17 when the Russian Customs Service discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
The former WNBA champion has been in custody for the past 3.5 months. While the U.S. government has declared the detainment unlawful and has been working to bring Griner back safely home, the reality is quite grim.
As per CNN’s reporting, Griner is “accused by Russian authorities of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance — an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.”
During Friday’s trial, the Russian prosecution laid out their evidence. As per CNN’s reporting:
Despite the seemingly absurd charge and sentencing considering the presented evidence thus far, Griner is unlikely to avoid a guilty conviction.
With Russia’s strong anti-drug laws, the political tensions between the U.S. and Russia (which have exponentially increased in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), and Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, there is plenty of reasoning to be pessimistic about Griner’s chances of being looked upon favorably by the Russian court.
As per The New York Times’ reporting, Griner’s lawyer, Aleksandr Boikov, expects the trial to last up to two months. A Russian court extended Griner’s detainment for another six months earlier this week in anticipation of a lengthy trial.
While it has been in Griner’s best interest to keep a low profile to prevent Russia from using her as a political tool, these efforts have had little effect. According to the Russian news outlet TASS, Russia has used Griner as a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap with the U.S. for Victor Bout. Known as the “Merchant of Death”, Bout was convicted of arms sales in 2008 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The Biden administration is coming under increasing pressure to bring the two-time Olympic gold medalist safely home as soon as possible. On Thursday, Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, spoke with CNN at length about the pain and the struggle that they both have had to endure over the past few months. While it has been publically stated by U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan that the Biden administration is “actively engaged” in getting Griner’s case resolved, Cherelle’s experience thus far has illustrated otherwise.
Just last month, Cherelle spoke to The Associated Press and explained the heartbreaking story of how the American embassy fumbled her scheduled phone call with Brittney on Jun. 18th. Cherelle and Brittney were to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary together on the call and it would have been their first phone call since Brittney’s arrest.
However, due to a “logistical error” by the State Department, the desk at the American embassy was unstaffed that day, being a Saturday. Brittney made numerous attempts to reach her wife, but none of her phone calls reached Cherelle, who assumed that Russian officials had prevented Brittney from making the call, only to learn the truth through Brittney’s lawyers on Jun. 20th.
Residents of Phoenix will have the opportunity to show and voice their support of Brittney and Cherelle Griner next Wednesday, July 6th, when the Phoenix Mercury will host a special public rally for Brittney Griner. In partnership with Congressman Greg Stanton (D), the U.S. representative of Arizona’s 9th district, the rally will feature Cherelle as a speaker and “will advocate for the immediate and safe return of Mercury star Brittney Griner, and for all government and non-government agencies involved to do everything in their power to bring an end to her wrongful detention in Russia.”
The rally is free and open to the public and will begin at 5 p.m. at the Footprint Center. Supporters planning on attending must register here. Attendees are encouraged to bring signs and to sign the petition at WeAreBG.org to demand that lawmakers prioritize Griner’s return.
The Mercury will also be collecting new and gently used shoes as part of BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive in partnership with Phoenix Rescue Mission.