By JIM HEINTZ, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) – American basketball star Brittney Griner will be tried in a Moscow area court on Friday, about 4 1/2 months after being arrested for possession of cannabis at an airport while traveling to play with a team rus.
The Phoenix Mercury Center and two-time U.S. 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 the US, acquittals can be overturned.
At a closed-door 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 Griner’s few close-ups since his arrest on Feb. 17, showed the 31-year-old handcuffed and looking forward, unlike a previous court appearance where she held head down. and covered with a hood.
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She refused to answer questions from journalists in English as they drove her through court, according to the video shown to Russian media. Russian media later reported that Griner’s lawyers would not comment on how his client planned to plead.
The athlete’s arrest and trial comes 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, aggravating already high tensions between the two countries. The invasion led to widespread sanctions imposed by the United States, and Russia denounced the United States for sending weapons to Ukraine.
Amid tensions, Griner supporters have kept a low profile in hopes of a peaceful solution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as unjustly detained and shifted oversight of her. case to his special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the head of the U.S. government. negotiator.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has urged President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.”
“It was good to see her in some of these images, but it’s hard. It’s always a reminder that his teammate, his friend, is being unfairly imprisoned in another country, ”Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday.
The coach hoped Biden would “take steps to make sure he got home.”
Griner supporters have encouraged a prisoner exchange like the one in April that took home Navy veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian media have repeatedly raised speculation that it could be exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the merchant of death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence for convicting for conspiring to kill American citizens and for help a terrorist organization. .
Russia has been demanding Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between the Griner case, which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, and Bout’s global dealings with deadly weapons could make this exchange unpleasant for the United States.
Others have suggested it could be negotiated jointly with Paul Whelan, a former director of navy and security who is serving a 16-year sentence for an espionage conviction the United States has repeatedly described as a facility.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked on Sunday on CNN whether a joint Griner and Whelan exchange for Bout was being considered, evaded the question.
“As a general proposal … I have no higher priority than to make sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we are doing, except that this is an absolute priority.”
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