On Monday, Brittney Griner made a brief public appearance and took a step closer to going on trial in Russia for drug-related charges. According to Griner’s defense team, a judge ordered her to remain in custody throughout the duration of her trial in a brief court procedure.
According to Griner’s attorney, Alexander Boikov, the next hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 1. On that day, the trial will officially begin, but first, he continued, technical formalities like reading the indictment and going over case materials would be dealt with.
Preliminary court proceedings were closed to the public when the news broke, but journalists did catch a rare sight of Griner as the WNBA center passed down a courthouse hallway.
For Monday’s hearing, the Phoenix Mercury and U.S. Olympic team player was escorted to the courtroom by four security guards and a dog. Less than an hour later, the process was reversed, and Griner was taken back to custody.
Griner did not react to inquiries from the media while he was restrained. She occasionally just shrugged her shoulders and walked on.
For around 130 days, Brittney Griner has been detained
The odyssey began one week prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Griner, 31, has already spent 130 days in Russian prison. Her appeal for home detention was turned down, and her custody has been continuously prolonged.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy were not present for the hearing on Monday. The U.S. Embassy was advised that the meeting was a “closed administrative meeting” and that Embassy officials would not be permitted to attend, according to a representative who spoke to NPR on the matter.
Boikov described the meeting as “a technical hearing addressing the extension of the arrest.” No more than that, please.
When hearings eventually start, the U.S. Embassy reports that American officials want to attend the formal trial.
Griner was detained on February 17 when marijuana vape cartridges were allegedly discovered in her luggage by airport security in the Moscow region. This led to a criminal allegation of narcotics smuggling into Russia. If found guilty, she may spend up to 10 years in prison.
Few specifics about her case are known, and this fuels rumors that the Putin regime detained Griner in order to use her as leverage.
The “Merchant of Death,” infamously convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, would be exchanged for Griner in one of the scenarios that have been proposed. Bout is a Russian national who is now detained in the U.S.
According to a Bout-for-Griner conversation that was covered by Russia’s official Tass media, an official source stated that such discussions were happening.
For much more money than her WNBA pay, Griner, like many other WNBA players, competes in foreign leagues during the off-season of the American league. She has recently been a member of the Russian squad UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is run by oligarch Iskander Makhmudov. The group has a history of association with Griner’s American club.
Griner’s hazardous predicament has sparked a variety of issues in the United States, including worries that making noise about her case and calling for her release could simply serve to increase Russia’s desire to use her as a pawn. In a recent letter to President Biden, dozens of civil rights organizations—among them the Human Rights Campaign, the National Organization for Women, and the National LGBTQ Task Force—implored him to take her case seriously.
Griner was illegally arrested by the Russian government, according to the Biden administration’s declaration in early May, which indicated that the United States would become proactive in its efforts to secure her release and return home.
According to the US, she is being held as a hostage. The Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to the State Department, “will head the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
That description has been refuted by Russia, which maintains that it is merely upholding its anti-drug trafficking legislation.