The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner arrived at a court near Moscow on Friday where her trial is expected to start, after officials claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage in February, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Griner, 31, a Phoenix Mercury player who plays in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason, was arrested February 17 at a Moscow airport.
Russian authorities have accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Griner is currently being kept at a pre-trial detention center north of Moscow. Her detention has been extended for six months pending the trial’s outcome, according to her lawyer.
Earlier this week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated that Griner is “wrongfully detained, unjustly detained and we have made that clear as an official determination of the US government.”
No verdict is expected on the first day of her trial, which is taking place at the Khimki city court, outside the Russian capital. Charge d’Affaires of the US embassy Elizabeth Rood also arrived at court on Friday for Griner’s hearing.
Griner’s supporters have expressed concern that the basketball star might be used as a political pawn, given rising tensions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Her detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked a wave of support among dozens of organizations in the US that have joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in urging President Joe Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home. safely as soon as possible.
When speaking to reporters on Air Force One earlier this week, Sullivan declined to detail US efforts to resolve Griner’s case, citing the “sensitive matter,” but maintained that the Biden administration is “actively engaged.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the case is not politically motivated when asked about Griner by CNN on a conference call with reporters Friday.
While the Kremlin cannot comment on the course of the trial, Peskov said, he emphasized that Griner was detained after carrying “illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances” which is punishable by Russian law.
“Based on what I said, her arrest cannot be politically motivated,” Peskov added.
Griner was named an honorary WNBA All-Star Game starter last week, with the All-Star Game scheduled to take place on July 10 in Chicago. Her detention is still “tough on our team,” Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters before the team’s game Monday against the Indiana Fever.
She expressed hope Griner will return home soon and that President Biden will “take the steps to ensure that she comes home.”