Brittney Griner appeared at a Russian court hearing on Friday and her pre-trial detention was extended by a month, the WNBA star’s Russian lawyer said.
Photos taken at the hearing show Griner leaving a courtroom outside Moscow in handcuffs and wearing an orange sweatshirt with a hood pulled over her head.
The hearing had previously been scheduled for May 19, when Griner’s pretrial detention period would end, but the date was moved up. The result did not come as a huge surprise, as Russian officials are expected to continue the legal process while behind-the-scenes negotiations with the US continue for Griner’s release.
A state department spokesperson told Yahoo Sports last week that “a significant development suggests the Biden administration will work more aggressively to secure his freedom. Oversight of his case shifted to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which focuses on negotiating the release of American hostages and others believed to be wrongfully held in foreign countries.
Griner has been behind bars since February 17 when he flew into a Moscow airport and. She is under investigation for large-scale drug transportation and faces up to 10 years in Russian prison if she is convicted.
The fact that no trial date has yet been set suggests to some experts that Russian officials are deliberately dragging out the trial. The pretrial investigation in a case like Griner’s should be relatively simple. The only witnesses appear to be Griner and the airport border guards who allegedly found the drugs. The main piece of evidence is the hashish oil allegedly obtained at the checkpoint.
“I have every expectation that they will prolong the process as long as possible,” William Pomeranz, a Russian law professor and interim director of the Kennan Institute, told Yahoo Sports last month. “I think essentially and unfortunately, Brittney is in the equivalent of a hostage situation. Russia has previously proposed in this position different prisoner exchanges for Russian citizens who have been convicted of illegal arms sales or drug sales. I’m sure the Russians would at some point be happy to trade Brittney for one of their own.”