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Trial against US basketball star Griner opened in Russia

#Trial #basketball #star #Griner #opened #Russia

The trial of US basketball star Brittney Griner, who has been jailed in Russia since February, opened on Friday as tensions rage over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

“The trial has started,” Polina Vdovtsova, the spokeswoman for the court in the city of Khimki near Moscow, told reporters.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion, faces up to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling.

The trial was partially closed, with limited media exposure, which Vdovtsova said was “at the request of the defence, the request of Griner himself.”

The 2.06 meter tall star was brought to court in handcuffs. She wore a white T-shirt with US music icon Jimi Hendrix on it.

The 31-year-old arrived in Russia in February to play during the US off-season and was arrested at a Moscow airport after being found with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner was arrested days before Russian President Vladimir Putin defied US warnings and dispatched troops to Ukraine, prompting Western powers to impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

The US authorities initially kept a low profile about the case, which only became known to the public on March 5th.

But amid declining ties, Washington now says Russia “wrongly arrested” the basketball star and ordered his special envoy to take him hostage.

“The US Embassy and the country care deeply about this case,” Elisabeth Rood, deputy chief of the US Embassy in Moscow, told reporters outside the court.

“She asked me to tell her that she was in a good mood and that she was sticking to her beliefs.”

Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, said she had “no complaints about her prison conditions.”

He added that she was exercising “in her cell and on walks.”

The WNBA has also said it is working to bring Griner home.

She was slated to play club basketball in Russia before the US season resumed, a common practice for American stars seeking extra income.

The next hearing will take place on July 7th.

– hard sentences –

Russian law is strict in such cases, and other foreigners have recently been sentenced to heavy penalties for drug-related offenses.

Last month a Moscow court sentenced former US diplomat Marc Fogel to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling.

Russia and the United States regularly bicker over the incarceration of each other’s citizens, sometimes exchanging them in scenes reminiscent of the Cold War.

In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, who was serving a nine-year sentence in Russia for using violence, was swapped for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been jailed in the US since 2010 on drug trafficking charges.

Other exchanges of this nature could be the subject of possible talks, observers say.

The most commonly mentioned names include Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage, and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death”, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.

In January 2020, Putin pardoned a young Israeli-American woman, Naama Issachar, who was jailed in Russia for “drug trafficking” after then-Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu met with him in Moscow and took her home.

She was stopped during a transit at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in April 2019 while flying between India and Israel via the Russian capital.

Authorities said they found nine grams of cannabis in their luggage.

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