Brittney Griner on trial in Russia, treating US as ‘unlawful detention’

Alexander Boykov, a lawyer for Griner, said outside the court that he would not comment “on the particulars of the case and the charges” because it was too early to do so.

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Griner had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to increase her income during the WNBA off-season, as did several other American players.

Some have left the Russian league since Griner’s arrest and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke with Griner, who is “doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances”.

“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and poses a threat to the safety of everyone who travels, works and lives abroad.”

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

At a closed closed-door hearing on Monday, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months, until December 20.

Her case comes at an extraordinary low in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, exacerbating already high tensions between the two countries. The US then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia denounced it for sending weapons to Ukraine.

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

“The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of banned drugs containing narcotics,” Peskov told reporters. “Given what I’ve said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.

Griner’s supporters had kept quiet in hopes of a quiet solution until May, when the State Department reclassified her as unlawfully detained and handed oversight of her case to the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Hostage – in effect, the chief negotiator for the US government. Her supporters are now openly campaigning for her release.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has urged President Joe Biden to secure her return, calling her “a political pawn.”

“I’d like him to tell me he cares about him. The rhetoric and the actions don’t match,” she told CNN.

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

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

Russian news media have repeatedly speculated that she could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year prison sentence on charges of conspiracy to kill American civilians and aid a terrorist. organization .

Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the major discrepancy between Griner’s case — which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make such a trade unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested she could be trafficked along with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and Security Director serving a 16-year prison sentence over an espionage conviction that the US has repeatedly described as deliberate.

AP, Reuters

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