A Russian court has scheduled Brittney Griner's trial to start this coming Friday, July 1 and ruled that the WNBA star's detention would be extended for another six months after she appeared for a preliminary hearing held behind closed doors in a suburb of Moscow.
At 6 feet 9 inches, the handcuffed, two-time Olympic gold medal winner towered over the Russian guards in black vests who led her into the court and up a set of stairs.
"It was good to see her in some of those images, but it's tough. Every time's a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,'' Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said late Monday.
Griner, a Phoenix Mercury center who has played in Russia for seven years during the WNBA's offseason, was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport for allegedly having cannabis oil in her suitcase.
In May, the US State Department classified Griner as "wrongfully detained" and assigned diplomats to work for her release, shifting
oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the U.S. government's chief negotiator.
That move has drawn additional attention to Griner's case, with supporters pushing for a prisoner swap like the one that brought home US Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
From Show Trial To Prisoner Exchange?
Some believe that Griner's case, which is now becoming a high-stakes trial that could result in a 10-year prison sentence, might well be a move on the part of Moscow to gain leverage for another, higher-profile prisoner exchange.
"This may sound counterintuitive, but the trial is a crucial part of the process. The Russians have to keep pretending that this is a legitimate arrest. There is no reason to believe that the charges are legitimate or that her trial will be fair. But if and when she's convicted, the Russians will have made clear their credible alternative to a deal to bring her home," Dr. Danielle Gilbert, assistant professor of military and strategic studies at the US Air Force Academy, told ESPN.
"Hostage diplomacy cases rely on the pretense of law. With Brittney Griner -- and Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed before her -- the Russians are using our own respect for the rule of law against us."
Photo from Shutterstock
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