WNBA star Brittney Griner was brought to a closed-door hearing held in a Russian courtroom on Monday, where she learned that her trial for allegedly attempting to smuggle drugs will begin this Friday, July 1. The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury center was also informed her detainment will be extended again for another six months, the expected duration of her trial. The news comes after she was first detained in February of this year, and the Russian government already extended her imprisonment twice through to June.
“She was caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil,” the Russian Federation said in a May 2022 statement to CNN. They went on to cite the specific criminal code Griner is accused of violating and highlighted that “she faces a prison term of up to 10 years.” Per the Associated Press, less than 1% of defendants successfully have their cases acquitted in Russian criminal court. Furthermore, acquittals can be overturned in the Russian legal system.
“The charges are serious, based on objective facts and evidence that is available,” the statement continued. “Attempts by the State Department to cast doubt on the validity of the detention of B. Griner are explained solely by the desire to influence justice by politicizing a generally understandable situation.”
The increased media surrounding Griner’s situation has led some pundits to believe more efforts to publicize it may have started becoming counterproductive. “People around Brittney and the U.S. government know that if you make too big a deal of it here, you not only risk bringing attention to it, but you add value to her as an asset,” ESPN reporter T.J. Quinn said on the ESPN Daily podcast in March. He went on to hint that if Griner becomes too big of a political symbol in Russia, especially as a Black lesbian, then Russian President Vladimir Putin might opt for a more hands-on approach to dealing with her.
Based on photos provided by AFP photographer Kirill Kudryavstev, Griner appeared stunned at some moments during Monday’s hearing and blank at others. But she was always handcuffed and always silent. Griner also avoided responding to any reporters as she was escorted from the courtroom when the hearing ended.
“It was good to see her in some of those images, but it’s tough. Every time’s a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said later Monday, according to the AP. “It’s tough on our team. It is good to see her. See how she’s doing? I don’t know if she’s doing OK.”
“At least we get to see an image of her,” she added. “Hopefully, with this trial happening quickly that some things will change and that President Biden will take the steps to ensure she comes home.”