Brittney Griner: who is WNBA basketball player, why is she on trial in Russia, what did she plead guilty to?

The WNBA player was detained in February after travelling to Russia to play off-season basketball

Basketball star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison after being convicted of drug trafficking charges.

The WNBA basketball player was detained in February after travelling to Russia to play club off-season.

She was detained after airport officials discovered cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner’s lawyers explained to the Russian court that she was prescribed it by Arizona health authorties to help with her chronic pain and had appealed for leniency.

The Womens National Basketball Association (WNBA) star and Olympic gold medal winner was sentenced after pleading guilty to her charges.

She had previously written to President Joe Biden, expressing fears she was: “terrified [she] might be here forever”

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

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

Who is Brittney Griner?

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

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

She has played for the Euroleague team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 during the off-season and was travelling there when she got detained.

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

How tall is Brittney Griner?

The Olympic winning medalist is 2.6m or 6 ft 9 inches.

Why was she detained in Russia?

The basketball player was detained 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 comes with a hefty jail sentence.

The incident also took place a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, which led to heightened tensions with the west.

Relations between America and Russia are at an all time low, with the Biden administration hitting out against Putin for his role in the war in Ukraine.

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

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

He tweeted: “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.”

The basketball player has also written to President Biden, expressing fears she was: “terrified [she] might be here forever”

What have her lawyers said?

“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis. The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health,” lawyer Maria Blagovolina was cited by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti as saying.

The defence also submitted tests she underwent as part of an anti-doping check, the RIA-Novosti report said. They did not detect any prohibited substances in her system.

The next hearing of Griner’s case at the Khimki district court, just outside Moscow, was scheduled for July 26.

Supporters hold up signs reading “Bring Brittney Home” during a rally to support the release of Brittney Griner (Pic: Getty Images)

What did she plead guilty to?

Griner pleaded guilty to unknowingly bringing cannabis oil vape cartridges into Moscow in February 2022.

She stated that she had packed them by accident and had not intentionally broken Russian law.

In her statement she said: “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.

"I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag."

Her lawyer Maria Blagovolina told the press outside of the courtroom that they “hope for leniency of the court.”

Adding: "Considering all the circumstances of the case, taking into account the personality of our client, we believe that the admission of guilt should certainly be taken into account.’’

Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, speaks during a rally to support Brittney Griner (Pic: Getty Images)

What has her wife said?

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

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

Addressing a rally in support of Griner by her team Phoenix Mercury she said:"What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than hurt. I’m frustrated."

"I’m frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family and to our friends. I’m frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice."

"Let’s make sure this administration knows that they have our support to do whatever is necessary, and that we are not going to ever be quiet until she’s home safely."

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