August 5, 2022
Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Liz Truss is in the lead to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, new reporting details what happened at the startup Zilingo, and advocates want Brittney Griner home. Have a restful weekend.
– Get Griner home. A Russian court yesterday found American basketball star Brittney Griner guilty of “an attempt to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia” and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony.
Though harsh, the sentencing may not come as a surprise for some—Griner has been detained in Russia since February, and not guilty verdicts are rare in the Russian court system—but it’s still heartbreaking.
Griner has for months been caught up in a geopolitical conflict between the U.S. and Russia; the exact outcome her family hoped to avoid at the beginning of her detention. The White House must now negotiate bringing the WNBA star home. “Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
“Today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG,” Griner’s team, the Phoenix Mercury, said in a statement shared on Twitter.
“I had no intent to break any Russian laws,” Griner told the court ahead of its Thursday verdict. “This was an honest mistake,” she said, referring to the less than one gram of cannabis oil found in her bag, “that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back to my team.” (Griner was in Russia playing professional basketball during the WNBA off-season.)
Brittney Griner, photographed Aug. 2 before a Russian court hearing. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Last month, I spoke with Black women leaders who have been fighting to get Griner to safety. Her WNBA teammates have been some of the loudest voices advocating for her release. Experts like Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania who researches Black experiences in the Soviet Union, Russia, and Ukraine, initially advised Griner’s family to say quiet and focus their efforts on private advocacy. As a queer Black woman in a country that has cracked down on LGBTQ rights, Griner’s situation was even more perilous.
Once that calculation shifted, Griner’s supporters spoke out. “We were ready to speak up because we had been preparing, studying and learning,” Terri Jackson, the executive director of the WNBA Players Association, told me last month.
Now that the Russian legal proceedings have adjourned, pushing for the U.S. do more to get Griner home swiftly will be more crucial than ever.
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