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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Brittney Griner spends birthday in a Russian cell

Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, in Khimki, Russia, in August.

By Sophie Downes, Valerie Hopkins, Michael Crowley and Ivan Nechepurenko

Brittney Griner, the American basketball star who has been detained in Russia since February, sent a message of thanks to her supporters Tuesday — her 32nd birthday.

According to a statement from two of her lawyers in Russia, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, Griner said, “Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me.”

The lawyers said they had met with Griner for several hours Tuesday and relayed messages from well-wishers. “Today is of course a difficult day for Brittney,” they said, adding that she was “very stressed” in anticipation of a hearing over the appeal of her conviction on drug charges, which is scheduled for Oct. 25.

Griner told her lawyers last week that she was not optimistic about the chances of her being freed before serving her full nine-year sentence and that she was struggling emotionally. Griner is allowed outside once a day, according to Boykov, during which she walks for an hour in a small courtyard at the penal colony outside Moscow where she is being held. She spends the rest of her time in a small cell with two cellmates, sitting and sleeping on a specially elongated bed to accommodate her 6-foot-9 frame.

While she awaits the appeals court hearing, Boykov said, Griner struggles in large part because it is “very difficult” to speak to her relatives. He added that it had been very difficult to organize phone calls with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and that Brittney Griner had been unable to speak to her parents or siblings since her detention, as far as he was aware.

Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden said that there had been no movement with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over Griner’s case. A White House official said last week that the administration was trying “every available channel” with Moscow, including the one through which U.S. officials arranged a prisoner swap in April to secure the release of Trevor Reed, a former Marine who had been serving a nine-year prison sentence in Russia.

Griner was stopped in February at an airport near Moscow on her way to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a Russian professional women’s basketball team. Customs officials said that she had been carrying two vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison after a trial that was all but assured to end in a conviction.

The United States has said that her detention and trial were politically motivated and that the Kremlin wants to exchange her for high-profile Russian citizens held in the United States. After her conviction, Russian officials said that political negotiations with the United States were already underway.

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