The trial for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been held in Russia on drug charges since February, is scheduled to begin Friday July 1, the AP reports.
According to the news agency, Griner appeared in a Russian court Monday for a closed-door pretrial hearing to “address procedural issues.” Announcement of the trial date followed the hearing.
Griner, an Olympic gold medalist and star forward for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained after authorities at a Moscow airport allegedly found cannabis oil in her luggage. However, in May, the U.S. government reclassified Griner as being “unlawfully detained,” signaling that it believes the drug charges are irrelevant to her detainment. The reclassification also means that the U.S. government can negotiate for Griner’s release.
In June, Griner’s detention was extended for the third time, until July 2.
If convicted, Griner could face up to 10 years in prison. The AP reports that fewer than 1% of defendants in the Russian legal system are acquitted and that acquittals, unlike in American courts, can be overturned.
Griner is one of two known Americans who are currently being detained in Russia. The other is Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was arrested on charges of espionage in 2018. A third American, Trevor Reed, was exchanged in a prisoner swap in April, leading experts to conclude that Russia may be hoping to exchange Griner, Whelan, or both for Russian detainees held in the U.S.
The AP reports that media outlets in Russia have speculated Griner could be offered in exchange for Viktor Bout, an arms trader sentenced in 25 years for his role in providing aid to terrorist organizations.
Many in the United States are calling on the government to take action to bring Griner home. The Women’s National Basketball Players’ Association, along with activist Tamryn Spruill, have created a petition calling on the government “to bring Brittney home swiftly and safely.” To date, they have collected over 280,000 signatures.