Brittney Griner: Russian court expects trial to start on Friday, lawyer says

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Griner, who has been detained in Russia since being arrested at a Moscow airport for attempted drug smuggling, attended the preliminary hearing in person on Monday, arriving in court handcuffed and flanked by guards in black vests, according to a photo by the AFP. photographer Kirill Kudryavstev.

His lawyer, Alexander Boykov, previously told CNN the hearing would be held behind closed doors at the Khimki court, just outside Moscow.

Griner, 31, a Phoenix Mercury player who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested Feb. 17. Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and charged her with smuggling large amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison .

Griner’s detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked an outpouring of support from dozens of organizations across the United States who have joined Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner in urging President Joe Biden to make a swap deal with the Russian authorities to free Griner and bring her home safely as soon as possible.

Griner supporters have expressed concern that she could be used as a political pawn, given rising tensions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More than 40 organizations — including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the National Urban League and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association — have signed a letter to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris calling for action to free Griner.

Families of Americans Detained Abroad Call for Urgent Action by Biden to Free Their Loved Ones

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Cherelle Griner one-on-one last Wednesday, according to a senior State Department official. And U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday that he and Blinken had spoken with Cherelle “over the past few days … to make it clear that we can’t even begin to imagine this that the family has to go through”. and what “Brittney has to go through”.

Cherelle Griner said last week that she had not spoken to his wife since February 17.

“I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world get home,” Sec. Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” during the Group of 7 summit on Sunday.

“That includes Paul Whelan, that includes Brittney Griner, that includes people in a number of other countries,” he added. Whelan is an American citizen who was detained in Moscow in 2018 and arrested for espionage. He denied the charges.

“I can’t comment in detail on what we’re doing except to say it’s a top priority,” Blinken said.

Although Griner’s trial has been scheduled, that shouldn’t stop US officials from trying to negotiate his release. his agent said on Twittercalling Monday’s hearing “administrative in nature and not substantive.”

“Negotiating his immediate release, regardless of legal action, should remain a top priority,” Lindsay Kagawa Colas wrote, “and we expect @POTUS and @VP to do everything in their power, right now, to make a deal to bring her home.”

Dozens of Organizations Sign Letter Calling on President Biden to Reach Deal for Brittney Griner's Release

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow will send a U.S. diplomat to Brittney Griner’s hearing on Friday, a U.S. official told CNN.

A State Department spokesperson reiterated that the Griner was “wrongfully owned” and said support for her and her family would continue. “The U.S. government will continue to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner and her family. We will continue to press for her release.”

Griner was named an honorary WNBA All-Star Game starter last week, with the All-Star Game set to take place July 10 in Chicago.

Griner’s detention overseas is always “tough on our team,” Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters ahead of the team’s game Monday against the Indiana Fever.

She expressed hope that Griner will return home soon and that President Joe Biden will “take the necessary steps to make sure she comes home.”

CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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