MOSCOW – Star basketball player Brittney Griner appeared before the Moscow Regional Court on Friday, some four and a half months after she was arrested at an airport for cannabis possession while traveling to play for a Russian team.
Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow in February. Police revealed that she was carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. The Phoenix Mercury Center and two-time US Olympic gold medalist faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug trafficking.
Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike in the United States, acquittals can be overturned.
Brittney Griner, 31, was handcuffed and escorted into the courtroom in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. At a closed-door preliminary hearing on Monday in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended by a further six months to December 20.
According to the state news agency RIA-Novosti, two witnesses were questioned by prosecutors: an airport customs officer who spoke in open court and an unidentified witness behind closed doors. The trial was then adjourned when two more witnesses failed to appear, and the next session was set for July 7th.
Griner’s attorney, Alexander Boykov, told reporters outside court that he did not want to discuss the details of the case and the indictment, or comment on his position on it “because it is too early.”
The athlete’s detention and trial comes amid strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia deployed its troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions between the two countries.
The invasion resulted in sweeping sanctions by the United States, and Russia condemned the United States for arms sales to Ukraine.
Elizabeth Rood, US Charge d’Affaires in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke to Griner, who is doing “the best he can in these difficult circumstances”.
“The Russian Federation wrongly arrested Brittney Griner,” Ms. Rood said. The practice of unjustified detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and poses a threat to the safety of all those traveling, working and living abroad. »
She stressed that the US government is “working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US citizens to safety.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied that politics played a role in Griner’s arrest and indictment.
“The fact is that the famous athlete was arrested in possession of illicit drugs with narcotics,” Peskov told reporters on Friday.
“From what I said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.
exchange of prisoners planned
Griner supporters kept a low profile, hoping for a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department reclassified the young woman as wrongly imprisoned and handed oversight of her case to his presidential commissioner specializing in hostage cases — effectively the US’s chief negotiator -Government.
“It was nice to see her in some of these pictures, but it’s difficult. Each time it’s a reminder that her teammate, her boyfriend, is unjustly imprisoned in another country,” said the Phoenix Mercury official. Coach Vanessa Nygaard on Monday.
The coach hoped Mr. Biden would “take the necessary steps to ensure she gets home.”
Griner supporters have sponsored a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Navy veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian media have repeatedly shared speculation that she could be traded for an arms dealer, Russian Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “dealer of death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill American citizens and supporting a terrorist organization.
Russia has been pushing for Mr Bout’s release for years. But the stark contrast between Griner’s case – which involves alleged possession of the vape cartridges of cannabis oil – and Mr. Bout’s global trade in lethal weapons could make such an exchange elusive for states.
Others have suggested the player could be traded alongside Paul Whelan, a former Navy and Security director who is serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly called staging.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on CNN on Sunday that a joint trade between Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout was being considered.
“As a general statement, I have no higher priority than getting Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world to return home,” he said. However, he specified that he “could not comment in detail on what we are doing, other than to say that it is an absolute priority”.