American basketball star Brittney Griner is scheduled to stand trial in Russia on Friday July 1st on charges of illegal cannabis possession.
The 31-year-old, a three-time WNBA league champion and seven-time All-Star who plays for Phoenix Mercury could face 10 years in prison if convicted.
The trial date was decided at a brief hearing she on Monday during which her detention was also extended for six months.
Griner was detained on 17 February at a Moscow-area airport after cannabis oil was allegedly found in her luggage.
The maximum prison sentence applies to “large-scale transportation of drugs.”
However, even if acquitted at the trial, the Russian government can still overturn any decision and still send Griner to prison.
Griner, a member of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), is considered one of the most dominant players in her sport’s history.
She travelled to Russia to play for EuroLeague team UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she had worked since 2014 during the US off-season. Roughly half of WNBA players compete overseas in the off-season as WNBA players are paid roughly five times more in Russia than they do in the United States.
A week ago the Kremlin responded to criticism of Griner’s detention by asserting that “she is not a hostage of Russian justice”. There has also been talk of swaps with Russian prisoners, such as Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death”, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiracy to assassinate US citizens. There was also talk of Paul Whelan, former director of marines and security, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage.
Speaking on Sunday, June 26, Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said in a televised interview:
“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 added: “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”