Brittney Griner’s trial in Russia will begin on July 1

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Brittney Griner will be tried from Friday in Russia, where she has been detained for more than four months for drug trafficking.

His attorney, Alexander Boikov, confirmed the start date to CNN after the handcuffed WNBA star made a brief appearance Monday for a closed-door preliminary hearing in a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, The Associated reported. Press. The court ruled that his detention would be extended for another six months pending trial, Boikov added. He told The New York Times that he expected Griner’s trial to take up to two months, depending on the court’s caseload.

Video from an NPR reporter showed the two-time Olympic gold medalist incoming and leaving court, apparently without comment, in the custody of officials. She had previously been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention until next Saturday.

Brian Whitmore, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, called Griner’s detention a “hostage situation” and his exercise trial a “political theater.” “designed to put pressure on the US government. in a prisoner exchange.

“They want to trade it,” Whitmore said, “and they’re going to drag it out until they get something they want.”

Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.) said Griner was “designed a political prisoner” and his fans should be prepared for a “show trial” resulting in a guilty verdict and jail time.

“All of this will mean nothing, and I will continue to work closely with the Biden administration to bring her and all Americans detained abroad home safely,” Allred said in a statement to Washington. Post.

Griner’s court appearance on Monday and the upcoming trial, Allred added, “are all theater to make Russia look like it has a fair legal system and to make his detention something more than a game.” of deeply cynical geopolitical power with a prominent American and put more pressure on the negotiations for his release.

Griner, 31, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested on February 17, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at Sheremetyevo International Airport and charged with transporting vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. Like many WNBA players who travel overseas in the offseason, Griner plays in Russia to supplement her income.

The State Department categorized Griner as ‘wrongfully detained,’ a shift in strategy that signaled it would no longer wait for the case to go through the Russian court system and take more aggressive steps to negotiate her release. . If found guilty of large-scale drug transport, she faces 10 years in prison. According to the Associated Press, less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and acquittals can be overturned.

After Monday’s hearing, a State Department spokesperson said, “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens abroad. The State Department has determined that the Russian Federation wrongfully detained US citizen Brittney Griner. The US government will continue to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner and her family. We will continue to press for his release.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, tweeted Monday that the hearing “was administrative in nature and not substantive. That said, the fact remains that the US government has determined that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained and used as a political pawn. The negotiation of his immediate release, whatever the legal proceedings, must remain an absolute priority and we hope [President Biden and Vice President Harris] do everything in their power, now, to make a deal to bring her home.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told the AP last week that she had “no confidence” in the US government’s handling of the situation after a planned phone call between the two went unheeded. did not take place due to what the State Department called a “logistical error” involving the U.S. Embassy in Russia.

US officials meet with team of WNBA star Brittney Griner detained in Russia

“I find this unacceptable and I have no confidence in our government at this time,” Cherelle Griner said. “If I can’t trust you to take a call on Saturdays out of office hours, how can I trust you to negotiate on my wife’s behalf to come home?” Because that’s a much bigger request than taking a call on Saturday.

As Griner’s case has drawn increased attention, supporters have called for a prisoner swap, similar to the April one in which Navy veteran Trevor Reed, detained since 2019, was swapped for a Russian pilot. convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian media have 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 conspiracy to kill US citizens and aiding a terrorist organization. However, the disparity in their crimes makes this unlikely to be acceptable to the US government.

“They want Viktor Bout back. He is connected to the highest levels of the Russian government. It’s an attempt to get it back,” Whitmore said. ” It’s clear that [Biden] the administration came under increasing pressure from Griner’s company, friends, and family. It is not an enviable position here, because what the Russian government wants is clear. It’s like negotiating with a terrorist.

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