WNBA Star Brittney Griner Appears In Russian Court

Griner appeared in a Russian court for a preliminary hearing on June 27

Brittney Griner, a basketball star player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, is stuck in Russia.

She was detained at a Russian airport in February after Russian authorities claimed they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil (or hash oil) in her luggage.

She “arrived at the court Monday, handcuffed and flanked by guards in black tactical vests,” according to the CNN reports.

The court decided to extend Griner’s detention for an additional six months while she awaits trial, and her criminal trial was scheduled to begin on July 1.

She can face up to ten years in jail if found guilty of large-scale narcotics trafficking. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and, unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be reversed.

Griner’s detention was extended for another six months on Monday by a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki after she appeared for a preliminary hearing behind closed doors.

According to a May 3 CNN story based on information provided by a US State Department representative, the US government has characterized this as unlawful detention. Griner formerly lacked a definite classification status from the US government. 

According to ESPN, this is significant since it indicates that the US government is seeking to negotiate Griner’s return rather than waiting for the matter to proceed through Russia’s court system.

Griner’s arrest and trial occurred at a particularly low point in Moscow-Washington relations. 

She was apprehended at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, escalating already-high tensions with sweeping U.S. sanctions and Russia’s condemnation of U.S. weapons supplies to Ukraine.

Griner’s followers had remained low-key during the conflict, hoping for a peaceful ending. Until May, when the State Department designated her as illegally held and assigned management of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs—effectively the United States’ lead negotiator.

This action has heightened interest in Griner’s case, with supporters advocating for a prisoner swap similar to the one that was brought home.

In April, Marine veteran Trevor Reed was traded for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

However, Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, told The Associated Press that she has “zero trust” in the U.S. government because of the way her wife’s detention has been handled thus far.

According to Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, any swap would require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced before applying for a presidential pardon.

The United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling for Griner’s release on Friday.

The resolution, introduced by Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton, urges Russia to “immediately release” Griner, 31 and instructs U.S. officials to “raise the case” for Griner’s release when communicating with Russia.

On Saturday, the Mercury praised the resolution, stating, “Stanton and many others are continuing to work with the White House, State Department, and Brittney’s family to secure her safe return home.”

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