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Brittney Griner wears Jimi Hendrix t-shirt on first day of trial in Russia

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Nearly five months after being detained at a Russian airport for allegedly having a cannabis vape pen in her luggage, WNBA star Brittney Griner entered the courtroom in a suburb of Moscow sporting a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt.

Like many players in the WNBA, in February, Brittney Griner was returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA off-season in a sport in which male athletes are paid far more for the same work.

The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic athlete faces 10 years in prison if convicted. According to the Associated Press, fewer than 1% of defendants in the Soviet country are acquitted, and even acquittals can be overturned, unlike in the U.S.

Per the AP, Elizabeth Rood, U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, was in court and spoke with Griner, who “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”

“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood added. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 1, 2022. U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner is set to go on trial in a Moscow-area court Friday. The proceedings that are scheduled to begin Friday come about 4 1/2 months after she was arrested on cannabis possession charges at an airport while traveling to play for a Russian team. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Trading Victor Bout for Griner might be only option

Arrested just days before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, her case highlights the difficulties in gaining release of a U.S. prisoner during a time of war.

While the U.S. State Dept. reclassified her case as “wrongfully detained” months ago to allow for heightened attention and high-level negotiations on her behalf, Russian State Media has claimed the country might be willing to trade Brittney Griner for Victor Bout, a Russian imprisoned in the U.S.

Russian businessman and arms dealer Victor Bout was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to sell millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian terrorists and seeking to kill Americans, ABC News reported at the time.

Brittney Griner could be traded for ‘Merchant of Death’, Russian news says

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, left, and convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, right. (AP / Getty Images, file)

Cherelle and Brittney Griner miss anniversary phone call

While the sports world has highlighted her case by displaying her jersey number on floor decals, Griner’s wife Cherelle wants President Biden to do more.

During the weekend of Juneteenth, the couple had a scheduled call via the U.S. embassy in Russia. Yet, the phone call marking their fourth anniversary never happened because the embassy wasn’t staffed. The U.S. State Dept. apologized for the error, but that was hardly satisfactory for Cherelle.

“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call,” Cherelle Griner told the AP in a June 20 report.

Meanwhile, Russian officials have denied Brittney Griner’s detainment is politically motivated.

Brittney Griner with her wife Cherelle Griner. (E Online)

Brittney Griner’s wife is losing patience with U.S. leadership

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution on Friday. “The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances,” Peskov told reporters. “In view of what I’ve said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was asked recently by CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan for Victor Bout was being considered.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said, not fully answering the question. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”

For Cherelle Griner, the more than 130 days Brittney has been detained in Russia adds to the urgency to secure her release.

“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action,” Cherelle Griner told CNN on Thursday. “I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they’re telling me is also matching their actions and so it’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let up. It’s over 130 days and BG’s still not back.

4 comments

Gregg A Blevins July 4, 2022 - 11:46 pm

Who in there right mind weres a Jimmy Hendrix Shirt to there Drug Arraignment???

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Brittney Griner writes letter to President Biden on Independence Day July 5, 2022 - 10:52 am

[…] a new phase when her trial began on July 1.  Court proceedings revealed Griner is facing up to 10 years over less than a gram of […]

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Maureen July 7, 2022 - 10:45 am

I was shocked when I saw the shirt Britney was wearing. Who advised that? Maybe she didn’t have a choice? God bless her, free her!

Reply
Robert Kantner (@Check_ur_source) July 7, 2022 - 12:24 pm

I concur that Britney was wrongfully detained, and should be freed. But there’s something wrong with a prisoner exchange drawing a false equivalency between a virtual political prisoner accused of an extremely minor drug offense (for a substance that should not be illegal in the first place) and a dangerous international arms dealer convicted of attempting to sell weapons to terrorists.

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