Brittney Griner Trial Begins in Russia; Looks Like Political Show

Brittney Griner Trial Begins in Russia; Looks Like Political Show
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The odds for justice in Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian Russia are already slim—and especially, we may assume, for a dreadlocked African American icon of the international LGBTQ community. But the war in Ukraine and the geopolitical rivalry between Moscow and Washington are now explicitly at play in the case of basketball superstar Brittney Griner. It’s more than four months since Griner was arrested at the Moscow airport, allegedly in possession of an undetermined number of cannabis-oil vape pens. Orders for her pre-trial detention have been repeatedly extended—most recently for six months on June 27. Finally, on July 1, her trial opened at a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki.  Griner showed up wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, and was told that she would have to wait to file a plea. It was also revealed that she is charged with possession of just two vape cartridges, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil. That would seem to exclude charges of “large-scale” trafficking (the worst-case scenario), but she could still face prison time under the notorious Article 228 of the Russian penal code, which outlaws “the making, acquisition, storage, transportation, sending, or sale” of illegal drugs in any quantity, and has often been used for purposes of political persecution. The Phoenix Mercury WNBA star, who had been playing a season for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, could face 10 years in prison if convicted on dubious charges of “large-scale” transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted. And unlike in the United States, acquittals can be appealed by the prosecution and reversed. Russia has the highest number of people per capita imprisoned for drug offenses in all of Europe, with some 100,000 behind bars on Article 228 violations. So that would be bad enough, even if Griner’s arrest hadn’t…

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