News (World)

Brittney Griner gets vote of support from Congress as Russian trial looms

Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27, 2022
Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27, 2022Photo: AFP via Getty Images

WNBA star Brittney Griner received a vote of support from the U.S. House of Representatives this past Friday when lawmakers passed a resolution condemning her “wrongful detention” and demanded both the U.S. and Russian governments expedite her release.

The resolution preceded an announcement Monday from a Russian court that Griner’s trial will start July 1. The court ruled the WNBA star’s detention be extended six months pending the outcome.

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Griner was arrested on February 17 at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow, a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Authorities accused her of “large-scale transportation of drugs” after allegedly finding cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage. The charge carries a possible five- to 10-year prison sentence.

It’s estimated less than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia are acquitted.

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Brittney Griner playing for Phoenix Mercury Shutterstock

The resolution was sponsored by Griner’s most vocal supporters in Congress, U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Colin Allred (D-TX), and made multiple demands of Russia, including Griner’s immediate release, unfettered consular access to the WNBA player and humane treatment. The resolution called out the U.S. government as well, pushing the State Department to “raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release” in all its dealings with the Russian government.

“This legislation insists on our embassy personnel having access to Ms. Griner and restates our commitment to freeing her now,” Lee said in a statement. “We continue to pray for her family and we will continue to work together as three members of Congress, along with others, to spread the message that she is held wrongfully and must be freed now.”

Allred, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added, “I’m proud the House has spoken in passing our resolution and calling for Brittney Griner’s swift release. Every day an American is held abroad is a lifetime, and I will keep working with @POTUS to do all we can to bring home every American detained abroad.”

According to Griner’s wife Cherelle, a scheduled call from the detained WNBA star on the couple’s fourth anniversary June 18 was never patched through by the U.S. embassy in Russia because the phone line at the embassy was not staffed. The State Department called it a “logistical error.”

A senior State Department official says Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Cherelle Griner one-on-one last Wednesday. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday he and Blinken spoke with Cherelle “in the last few days… to convey that we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through” and what “Brittney must be going through.”

Despite Griner’s scheduled trial Friday, U.S. officials still need to press for the player’s negotiated release, according to Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.

“The negotiation for her immediate release regardless of the legal proceedings should remain a top priority and we expect @POTUS and @VP to do everything in their power, right now, to get a deal done to bring her home.”

 

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