Trial begins against American basketball star in Moscow-area court

MOSCOW (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner will stand trial Friday in a Moscow-area court, some 4 1/2 months after she was arrested on cannabis possession charges at an airport while traveling to play for a team. Russian.

the Phoenix Mercury Center and the two-time US Olympic gold medalist could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug transportation. Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be set aside.

Behind closed doors preliminary hearing On Monday in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months, until December 20.

Photos obtained by The Associated Press, including one of the few close-ups of Griner since her arrest on Feb. 17, show the 31-year-old handcuffed and facing forward, unlike a previous court appearance in which kept his head down. and covered with a hood.

She refused to answer reporters’ questions in English as she was led through the courthouse, according to a video shown in Russian media. Russian media later reported that Griner’s lawyers did not comment on how her client planned to plead guilty.

The athlete’s arrest and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions between the two countries. The invasion led to sweeping sanctions imposed by the United States, with Russia denouncing the United States for sending weapons to Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for security matters. hostages, actually the chief US government negotiator.

Griner’s wife, Cherellehas urged President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.”

“It was good to see her in some of those pictures, but it’s hard. Every time it’s a reminder that her teammate, her friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday.

The coach hoped that Biden would “take whatever steps are necessary to make sure he comes home.”

Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Navy veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug conspiracy.

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that she could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed “the merchant of death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill American citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. terrorist. .

Russia has campaigned for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between the Griner case, which involves the alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make such a trade unpleasant for the US.

Others have suggested that she could be traded along with Paul Whelana former Navy and security director serving a 16-year sentence for an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked Sunday on CNN if a joint trade of Griner and Whelan for Bout was under consideration, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition … I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are unlawfully detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he couldn’t comment “in detail on what we’re doing, except to say it’s a top priority.”


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