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US Olympic Basketball Star Brittney Griner Appears In Russian Court On Drug Smuggling Charges

Brittney Griner, two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist, went on trial in Moscow this week on drug smuggling charges which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 

Griner’s supporters and US officials are advocating that she is being wrongfully detained and are pleading for her release. Others are worried that she will be used as a political pawn as tensions between US and Russia rise. 

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At the trial Griner was accused of smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. 

Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” the prosecutor said, according to a TASS reporter in the hall of the Khimki City Court.

The prosecution argues that Griner “intended to import the drugs into Russia’s territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase,” according to TASS. 

Cannabis oil is classified as a narcotic drug in Russia. 

Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, said on Friday they were “unaware of any plans to exchange Griner for a Russian prisoner held in the US. We have no information about it, unfortunately,” the lawyers said during an impromptu press conference.

During the hearing, “an employee of the Sheremetyevo airport customs services was one of the two witnesses. He was interrogated on the circumstances of Griner’s detention and personal search,” the lawyers said.

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US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, emphasized that Griner had been “wrongfully detained, the practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”

“She [Griner] is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith. The US government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US nationals home,” Rood said.

Griner’s detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked a wave of support among dozens of organizations in the US that have joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in urging President Joe Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home safely as soon as possible.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, pleaded with US officials to do more to secure her wife’s release.

“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action. I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they’re telling me are also matching their actions and so it’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let up. It’s over 130 days and BG’s still not back.” 

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters that Griner’s “detention is still tough on our team. We hope Griner will return home soon and that President Biden will take the steps to ensure that she comes home.”

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong Protests Escalate As 1,000 Citizens Detained at University

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing for several months now and show no signs of slowing anytime soon, and are in fact escalating in intensity as a Hong Kong university was transformed into a battlefield between police and demonstrators, which ended with hundreds of young people jailed. Roughly a dozen protestors remain inside the school after heavily armed police officers surrounded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, arresting many protestors who eventually surrendered to the authorities. Some students were able to escape without being captured by police by rappelling from a bridge to be rescued by motorbike drivers, while others unsuccessfully attempted to use a sewage pipe to escape. 

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The protests began as a response to proposed legislation to make it easier to extradite Hong Kong residents to China which was feared to impact Hong Kong’s independence and political freedoms. While the legislation in question has since been withdrawn, the aim of the protests has expanded to demand a stronger democracy in Hong Kong, further independence from China, and greater police accountability. The police have escalated their attempts to quell the protestors, using live ammunition on multiple occasions. These actions have only emboldened protesters, who have used bows and arrows and homemade weapons such as molotov cocktails in their ongoing battles with the police. At PolyU, police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against protestors, who retaliated with violence. As the battle at the university concluded, protestors were searched by police and those who were older than 18 were arrested. According to Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, around 200 of the protestors were minors.

The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons

The dozen protestors who remain, many of whom are high school and university students, have said that they will neither leave the university nor surrender to police, in essence waiting for officers to enter the university and arrest them. Except for the few remaining protesters, the campus has been totally deserted, with debris littered throughout, and unused petrol bombs and pro-democracy grafitti were found on the campus. Roughly 80 people were treated for injuries at the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, and around 200 people were sent to other hospitals. Protesters have set fire to bridges connecting the university to a nearby train station and have destroyed other property as well. The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons, which carries the threat of serious prison time, leading to reluctance on the part of protesters to surrender to police.

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Last week, protestors clashed with the police at another university, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Over 3,900 Molotov Cocktails were seized at this university, and Kwok Ka-chuen, a spokesman for the police, described the university as a “manufacturing base” for these weapons. At the same time as this drama unfolded at these Hong Kong universities, a Hong Kong court overturned a ban on face masks instituted by Beijing in an attempt to curb the tremendously disruptive protests. The Hong Kong High Court found that this ban violated the constitution of the Hong Kong territory, which is called the Basic Law. The Congress has taken the unusual step of criticizing the court’s decision, saying that the finding “seriously weakened the lawful governing power” of Hong Kong’s government. While this would be an extreme step, the National People’s Congress has the authority to change the Basic Law, meaning they could institute changes that would make the face mask ban legal, potentially having broader implications for civil liberties in the territory generally.