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Brittney Griner back in Russia court as Biden faces calls to secure release of WNBA star

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Griner, 31, was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities stated they discovered vape canisters with hashish oil in her baggage. She might resist 10 years in jail if convicted on drug smuggling prices beneath the Russian regulation.

Her arrest occurred simply days earlier than Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, and has highlighted the frayed relations between Washington and Moscow.

The Kremlin has been accused of utilizing Griner as a political pawn whereas the Biden administration has stated she has been “wrongfully detained.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has denied Griner was being held as a hostage in Russia.

The trial for Griner, a 6-foot-9 native of Houston, two-time Olympic gold medalist and a middle for the Phoenix Mercury, began last Friday when the courtroom questioned two prosecution witnesses.

Griner, who performs for a Russian basketball workforce through the WNBA’s offseason, has made no public statements since her detention and it’s unclear what she makes of the accusations in opposition to her or what she says have been the circumstances surrounding her arrest.

Since her trial began, her household, mates and colleagues have elevated their requires the U.S. to do extra to deliver her dwelling.

Her workforce held a rally in her assist in Phoenix on Wednesday whereas Rev. Al Sharpton urged Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to rearrange for him and a bunch of religion leaders to satisfy Griner in Russia.

The White Home stated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on Wednesday to guarantee her that he’s working to safe Griner’s launch as quickly as doable. He additionally learn her a draft of the letter he was sending to Griner on Wednesday, in response to the White Home readout of the decision.

It got here after Griner stated in a handwritten letter addressed to Biden earlier this week that she was terrified she might be in Russian jail ceaselessly, imploring the American president to do all he can to deliver her dwelling.

In Could, the State Division reclassified Griner as having been “wrongfully detained” and transferred oversight of her case to the State Division Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. 

U.S. officers have stated they’re working behind the scenes to free her.

Up to now, Washington has not formally commented on any doable prisoner swaps, regardless of hypothesis in Russian state media in Could that Griner might be exchanged for convicted Russian arms seller Viktor Bout, who’s serving a 25-year jail sentence within the U.S. NBC Information wasn’t in a position to affirm these reviews. 

There are additionally rising questions over whether or not Griner might be traded together with Paul Whelan, one other American serving a 16-year sentence for espionage.

On Wednesday, Russian international ministry deputy spokesperson Alexey Zaitsev stated Griner was arrested for “a critical offense, confirmed by indeniable proof.” However he stated she is free to file an attraction and to ask for clemency. As to the doable prisoner change, Zaitsev stated the courtroom must attain a verdict first, which he estimated might take not less than a month.

Russian state information company Tass cited the international ministry on Thursday as saying that “publicity and hype” within the media and on-line round Individuals detained in Russia impede the interplay between Moscow and the U.S. on prisoner exchanges.

Erik Ortiz contributed.