Phoenix Mercury Rallies for Teammate Detained in Russian Prison

Brittney Griner has spent 139 days detained in Russia as of Wednesday, July 6. For Phoenix Mercury teammates, fans and anyone else who yearns for her safe and sound return – enough is enough. As Griner’s trial starts up overseas, the WNBA team is stirring up support at a “Bring BG Home” rally beginning at 5 pm Wednesday at Footprint Center in Phoenix.

Griner, the Mercury center and WNBA star, was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow after officials found vape cartridges containing marijuana concentrate in her luggage. At a preliminary hearing last week, her detention was extended by six months.

Russia is among the nations with the harshest penalties for carrying marijuana into the country. If you want to travel with pot overseas, check with the US State Department in advance. Even flying domestically with pot can be risky. Also check with the US Transportation Security Administration for details on domestic and international travel.

The Mercury is hosting the event in collaboration with Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton, who introduced a resolution in May calling for Griner’s release.

“Not a day goes by that we are not thinking of Brittney and working to get her home,” Stanton said in a June 25 press release.

Griner’s trial started on July 1. Prosecutors alleged she had two vape cartridges containing under a gram of marijuana concentrate. The prosecution acknowledged the vape cartridges were for personal use, but marijuana remains illegal in any capacity in Russia.

Griner now faces large-scale drug smuggling charges, which can carry up to a 10-year sentence in Russia, according to the Russian Federation criminal code.

She was first taken into custody on February 17. Since then, the court has extended her detention four times and ordered Griner to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial.

On July 4, Griner penned a letter to President Joe Biden.

“I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote in an excerpt shared with the media.

Efforts toward Griner’s release have been moving slowly. The US Embassy has been repeatedly denied access to Griner by Russian officials.

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Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury celebrates with fans following Game 2 of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 13, 2021.

Christian Petersen / Staff / Getty Images

Griner’s detainment came just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, applying pressure to already tense relations between Russia and the US In May, the State Department determined Griner was wrongfully detained and referred the matter to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged “every possible assistance” to Americans detained in Russia during a March 6 joint press conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Chisinau, Moldova.

The State Department later issued a “do not travel to Russia” advisory, stating, “There is the potential throughout Russia of harassment of foreigners, including through regulations targeted specifically against foreigners,” according to its website.

Specifics of any negotiations have not been made public. Some speculate the State Department could use a prisoner swap to free Griner.

In April, Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine held in Russia for more than two years on assault charges, was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to 20 years in U.S. prison for drug trafficking.

Some lawmakers and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said Brittney is being used as a “political pawn.” US Representative Colin Allred of Texas said in an interview with CNN that Brittney is “being held for largely political purposes.”

Allred joined Stanton and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in introducing the resolution calling for the immediate release of Griner.

Griner also has received a swell of support from fans. A petition calling for her safe return is nearing 300,000 signatures.

The “Bring BG Home” rally hopes to result in even more signatures and support for Griner. Cherelle Griner will be a featured speaker, and other advocates can let their voices be heard. The event is free and open to the public, though those attending must register online.

Griner’s trial is set to resume on Thursday, July 7 after the absence of two witnesses led to a weeklong adjournment.


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