Who is Brittney Griner and why is she detained in Russia?

Brittney Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow in February and faces up to 10 years in prison

Basketball star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to bringing drugs into Russia.

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star and Olympic gold medalist has denied willfully breaking the law and told the court she mistakenly packed the cannabis oil in her luggage.

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The successful basketball player was arrested in February after he traveled to Russia to play club basketball during the off-season.

Her trial, which began last week, could sentence her to 10 years in prison.

She has written to President Joe Biden, expressing her fears: “Scared [she] could be here forever”

Her wife has also urged Biden to do “whatever is necessary” to secure her release.

Here’s everything you need to know about Brittney Griner.

Who is Brittney Griner?

Brittney Griner arrives for a hearing at Khimki Court for her trial on July 7 (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The 31-year-old is one of the most successful basketball players of her generation.

During her career for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team, she has won WNBA and Euroleague titles, as well as two Olympic gold medals in 2016 and 2020.

She has been playing off-season for Euroleague team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 and was on her way there when she was arrested.

Griner came out as gay in 2013 and married her partner Cherelle Watson in 2019.

Why was she held in Russia?

The basketball player was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow in February after airport officials discovered cannabis oil and a vape in her luggage.

Cannabis oil is illegal in Russia and possession of the drug carries a heavy prison sentence.

The incident also happened a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, raising tensions with the West.

America-Russia relations are at an all-time low, and the Biden administration is lashing out at Putin over his role in the war in Ukraine.

Griner’s detention was described by the US State Department as being wrongly detained in “unbearable circumstances.”

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken took to Twitter to confirm that US officials attended Griner’s hearing.

He tweeted, “We will not back down until Brittney, Paul Whelan and all other wrongly imprisoned Americans are reunited with their loved ones.”

The basketball player has also written to President Biden, expressing her concerns: “Scared [she] could be here forever”

What did she plead guilty to?

Griner pleaded guilty to unknowingly bringing cannabis oil vape cartridges to Moscow in February 2020.

She explained that she packed them by mistake and not intentionally violating Russian law.

In her statement, she said: “I would like to plead guilty, Your Honor. But there was no intention. I didn’t want to break the law.

“I was in a hurry to pack and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag.”

Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told the press outside the courtroom that she “hoped for leniency from the court”.

Adding, “Taking into account all the circumstances of the case and considering our client’s personality, we feel that the admission of guilt should certainly be considered.”

Griner’s next hearing is July 14.

If found guilty of the drug transport, she faces a prison sentence of up to ten years.

What did your wife say?

Griner’s wife Cherelle has been vocal about her spouse’s imprisonment.

She has expressed frustration at how long it took for her wife’s case to be heard.

Speaking at a rally in support of Griner by her team, Phoenix Mercury, she said, “What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than pain. I am frustrated.”

“I am frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife was able to speak to me, our family and friends. I am frustrated that justice will not be done for my wife.”

“Let’s make sure this government knows they have our support to do whatever is necessary and that we will never stand still until they are safely home.”

She also took to Instagram and shared that she was “hopeful” that the President had read Griner’s letter and that they would “take comfort in knowing that she has not been forgotten.”