‘Political pawn’: Russian jail of WNBA star Brittney Griner extended by 6 months – National

Tied up and looking suspicious, WNBA star Brittney Griner was tried by a court near Moscow for cannabis possession some four and a half months after she was arrested at an airport while returning to play for a Russian team.

The Phoenix Mercury Center and two-time US Olympic gold medalist was also ordered to remain incarcerated while her criminal trial lasted. If convicted of large-scale drug trafficking, Griner faces ten years in prison. Less than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be overturned.

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At the closed preliminary hearing in the Moscow suburb of Chimki on Monday, Griner’s imprisonment was extended by a further six months. Photos from The Associated Press showed the 31-year-old handcuffed and looking straight ahead, in contrast to a previous court appearance in which she had her head bowed and hooded.

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Her detention and trial reach an extraordinary low in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions with sweeping sanctions from the United States and Russia’s denunciation of US arms sales to Ukraine.

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Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had held back hoping for a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department deemed her wrongly imprisoned and transferred oversight of her case to the President’s special envoy for hostage affairs – effectively the US government’s chief negotiator .

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

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

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

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Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case — she was allegedly found possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global deadly weapons trade could make such a swap uncomfortable for the US

Others have suggested she could be traded alongside Paul Whelan, a former Navy and Security director who is serving a 16-year sentence on a spying conviction that the United States has repeatedly called staging.

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

“As a general statement … I have no higher priority than making sure Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in detail on what we’re doing other than to say that this is an absolute priority.”

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


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Fears are mounting that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being held as a Russian political prisoner


Fears grow that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being held as a Russian political prisoner – March 17, 2022

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