Thursday, December 8 2022

More than four months after his arrest at a Moscow airport for possession of cannabis, a Russian court has set July 1 as the date for the start of the criminal trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner.

The Phoenix Mercury star was also ordered to remain in custody for the duration of his criminal trial. She could spend 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale drug transport. Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike the United States, acquittals can be overturned.

On Monday, a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki extended Griner’s detention for another six months after he appeared for a preliminary hearing held behind closed doors. Photos obtained by the AP showed her in handcuffs. Griner had previously been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.

Griner’s detention and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions.

Amid the tensions, Griner supporters had kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of his case to his special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the US government’s chief negotiator.

The move drew additional attention to Griner’s case, with supporters encouraging a prisoner swap similar to the one in April that brought home Navy veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of conspiracy. of drug trafficking.

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 discrepancy between Griner’s case – she was allegedly found in possession of cannabis-containing vape cartridges – oil and Bout’s global arms deals could make such an exchange unpleasant in the United States.

Others have suggested she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former naval and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction the United States has repeatedly described as a set up.

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

“As a general proposition … I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world get home,” he said. declared. But “I can’t comment in detail on what we’re doing except to say it’s a top priority.”

Any swap would apparently require Griner to be convicted and sentenced first, then seek a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil cases, told the Kremlin-funded RT TV channel.

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