The trial of the American basketball star begins in a court in the Moscow region | Region

MOSCOW (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner is set to stand trial in a Moscow region court on Friday, about 4.5 months after she was arrested for possession of cannabis at an airport while traveling to play for a Russian team.

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 trafficking. Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike the United States, acquittals can be overturned.

In camera 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 his Feb. 17 arrest, showed the 31-year-old handcuffed and staring straight ahead, unlike a previous court appearance where she kept the head down. and covered with a hood.

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

The athlete’s detention 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, and Russia denounced the United States for sending weapons to Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner supporters kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and handed over surveillance of her case to his special presidential envoy for hostage affairs – effectively the head of the US government. negotiator.

Griner’s wife, Cherelleurged 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 difficult. Each time it’s a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,” the official said on Monday. Phoenix Mercury trainer, Vanessa Nygaard.

The coach hoped Biden would “take the necessary steps to make sure she comes home.”

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

Russian media have repeatedly speculated that she could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed ‘the dealer of death’, who is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill citizens. Americans and aiding a terrorist organization. .

Russia has been agitating for years for Bout’s release. But the wide disconnect between Griner’s case — which involves the alleged possession of vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in lethal weapons could make such an exchange unpleasant in the United States.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked on CNN on Sunday whether a joint trade of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, dodged the question.

“As a general proposition … 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. declared. But he said he couldn’t comment “in detail on what we’re doing except to say it’s a top priority”.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Elna M. Lemons