The WNBA’s Brittney Griner stands trial in a Russian court

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Trial against WNBA star Brittney Griner opened in Russian court

MOSCOW (AP) – American basketball star Brittney Griner was put on trial on Friday, 4 1/2 months after her arrest for possession of cannabis oil, when she returned to play for a Russian team in a case that was raging amid tense trials Relations between Moscow and Russia has developed Washington.

The first negotiation session, adjourned until July 7, featured the most extensive public interaction between Griner and reporters since the Phoenix Mercury Center and two-time US Olympic champion was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February.

Griner, 31, was escorted to the courtroom in the capital’s Khimki suburb wearing handcuffs and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. At a preliminary hearing closed to the public On Monday, her detention was extended by a further six months to December 20.

Police said she was carrying vape canisters of cannabis oil when she was arrested at the airport. If convicted of large-scale drug trafficking, she faces up to ten years in prison.

Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike US courts, acquittals can be overturned.

The state news agency Tass quoted Griner in court as saying that she understood the allegations, but would only comment on them later.

Two witnesses were questioned by prosecutors: an airport customs officer, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session. according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses failed to appear.

Alexander Boykov, a lawyer for Griner, told reporters in court, “I don’t want to go into the details of the case and the charges and comment on our position on it because it’s too early for that.”

Boykov also told RIA-Novosti that she does sports and goes for walks in the detention area. Russian website Business FM said that Griner, who sometimes smiled at reporters, said she wishes she could exercise more and that she struggles because she doesn’t understand Russian.

Her case hits an extraordinary low in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions between the two countries. The US then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia condemned the US for supplying arms to Ukraine.

Elizabeth Rood, US chief executive in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke to Griner, who is “doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”

“The Russian Federation wrongly arrested Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of unlawful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and poses a threat to the safety of all who travel, work and live abroad.”

She said the US government is “working hard at the highest level to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US citizens home safely.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied that politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution.

“The fact is that the famous athlete was arrested in possession of banned drugs containing narcotics,” Peskov told reporters. “Considering what I said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.

Griner’s supporters had held off hoping for a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department reclassified them as wrongly imprisoned and assigned oversight of their case to the President’s special envoy for hostage affairs – effectively the US government’s chief negotiator.

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

“It was nice to see her in some of these pictures, but it’s hard. Every time she is reminded that her teammate, her boyfriend, is unjustly imprisoned in another country,” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday.

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

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

Russian news media have repeatedly expressed speculation that she could be swapped out for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Dealer of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiring to kill US citizens and supporting a terrorist organization was convicted.

Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case – which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil – and Bout’s global trade in lethal weapons could make such a swap uncomfortable for the US

Others have suggested she could be traded alongside Paul Whelana former naval and security director serving a 16-year sentence on a conviction for espionage, which the US has repeatedly called fraud.

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