MOSCOW (AP) — Jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner returns to a Russian court Thursday amid a growing chorus of calls for Washington to do more to secure her release nearly five months after she was arrested on drug charges. .
Griner was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after vaporizer canisters containing cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted of large-scale drug transportation.
The trial of the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist began last week, but the second session was adjourned because two scheduled witnesses failed to appear. Such delays are not uncommon in Russian courts and her detention was authorized until December 20, suggesting the process could take months.
It was unclear whether Griner would testify Thursday.
Although Griner’s supporters initially kept a low profile, calls for the United States to take action soared after the first day of the trial.
The State Department has designated her as wrongfully detained, transferring her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s top hostage negotiator.
However, Washington has not made its strategy in the case public, and the US may have little leverage with Moscow due to strong animosity over Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. The White House said President Joe Biden called Griner’s wife on Wednesday to assure her that he is doing everything he can to get the athlete released as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Griner in which he said he feared he would never return home.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America’s most prominent black activists, this week called on Biden to host a prayer meeting with Griner, saying, “Four months is too long for this to have gone on, and I hope the president will act.” consequently. pleas to return home.
An organization called Win With Black Women sent Biden a letter saying that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “called Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, publicly assuring her and stating that Brittney’s safe return was a matter of personal priority; however, he is concerned that the rhetoric does not seem to align with the actions taken to date. We urge you to make a deal to get Brittney home quickly.”
The Russian media has repeatedly speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed “the merchant of death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiracy to kill citizens. Americans and provide assistance to a terrorist organization.
Russia has campaigned for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s alleged crime and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make such an exchange unpalatable to Washington.
Others have suggested she could be traded along with Paul Whelan, a former Navy and security director serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as staged.
Russia has shown no signs of backing down.
“This is a serious crime, confirmed by indisputable evidence… Attempts to present the case as if the American had been illegally detained do not stand up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said on Wednesday.
“The law has been broken, and arguments about the innocent nature of Griner’s addiction, which is, by the way, punishable in some US states, are inappropriate in this case,” he said.
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