Brittney Griner has been making international headlines for the past nine months after her arrest in a Russian airport earlier this year. She was found in possession of cannabis concentrate-hashish oil. Following this discovery, Griner was taken into Russian custody.
Brittney Griner is a decorated American WNBA and Olympic basketballer, with 2 olympic gold medals and a 7-time WNBA all star. She is currently signed to the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team and an off-season player in UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian premier League. It is common practice for WNBA athletes to participate in other basketball leagues during the WNBA off-season as a means to earn extra income and remain in shape.
During Brittney Griner’s off-season travel to Russia, she was arrested in the Moscow Airport during routine luggage scans. The athlete was found in possession of vape cartridges which contained hashish oil – a cannabis concentrate. Although It is reported that the initial arrest took place on February 17th 2022, international news about this arrest was only shared in the midst of Russia’s advancement into Ukraine.
Ever since, this case has been of keen international interest. Several influential athletes, celebrities and politicians have been lobbying for Griner’s release and return to the United States. Griner’s trial officially began on July 1st, where she pleaded guilty to the drug charges brought forward. According to Griner’s lawyers, the athlete was in possession of the narcotics based on prescription, which is a common practice with most professional athletes. They mentioned this in an attempt to prove that there was no intent for distribution.
In the outcome of her trial, Griner was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment in a Russian penal colony. Following her sentencing, her legal team filed an appeal for her case; it was later denied by the Russian courts on November 8th 2022. In addition to her legal team’s efforts, the Biden administration and United Nations administration have also attempted to reach a diplomatic agreement concerning Griner’s release.
Biden’s national security advisor and other American politicians have criticised the Russian judicial system. Additionally, through the few press interviews that Griner has had, she has described the Russian legal system as “bewildering” and the living conditions as extremely difficult. So far, it is known that Griner has been sharing her cell with two other english-speaking inmates, who have also been detained on drug charges.
Many believe that Russia is holding Griner as a political pawn, following the complicated diplomatic relationship between Russia and the United States. This has been further convoluted as of late, following the Biden administration’s tough stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The United States is also holding several Russians in its custody, such as Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in an American prison facility. Many speculate that both countries may engage in a prisoner swap, as a means to settle Griner and another American journalist’s imprisonment.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, along with her family, have been consistently speaking out against her detention in Russia. In an interview with CBS, Cherelle shared her frustration and said, “BG has truly suffered beyond her crime already.” The official WNBA communications team, and the Phoenix Mercury team have also shared their statements of support for Brittney. Due to the prolonged duration of this case, it is reported that Griner is not entirely optimistic about her ability to return home anytime soon.
As we speak, the Biden administration is currently under immense pressure to increase their efforts towards securing the liberation of Brittney Griner. Even though her legal team’s appeal was declined, and securing her release may be a steeper uphill battle than anticipated, many supporters believe that Brittney Griner will be able to return to American soil in the near future.