WNBA star Brittney Griner will go on trial in Russia in her cannabis possession case on Friday, a judge has ruled.
The Phoenix Mercury star, who has spent more than four months in a Russian jail, appeared before a judge for a preliminary hearing in the Moscow suburb of Khimki on Monday.
Photos showed the 31-year-old American athlete looking wide-eyed while being led in handcuffs.
The court also extended Griner’s detention for another six months.
Griner had previously been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.
The athlete could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned.
Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for allegedly being in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Griner’s supporters had taken a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted 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 behind the “We are BG” campaign encouraging a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Others have suggested that she could be traded together with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.
“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”
Any swap would apparently require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT.
Last week, more than 40 organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, and the NAACP, sent a letter to President Biden urging him “to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”
The move came after Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, blasted the Biden administration after officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow failed to put through a call from Brittney on the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary. The call was supposed to have been patched through the embassy, and Griner attempted to call her wife 11 times, according to reports.
With Post Wires