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The Brittney Griner trial in Russia is of concern

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American arrested for legitimate reasons in Russia or hostage to a diplomatic war? The trial for drug trafficking and smuggling of basketball star Brittney Griner is expected to begin this Friday near Moscow. What follows could reveal how much the athlete risks becoming a bargaining chip between the two powers.

Posted at 12:00

Janie Gosselin

Janie Gosselin
The print

“He doesn’t look good,” comments William Pomeranz, a specialist in Russian law and interim director of the Kennan Institute, a collaborator of the American think tank Wilson Center, which he joined. The print on the telephone. “It is almost impossible to get an acquittal [dans le système criminel russe]and this process also has political ramifications, ”adds the man who practiced two years in Russia in commercial and international law.

The Phoenix Mercury star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was arrested just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last February at an airport near Moscow. According to the Russian authorities, she allegedly had in her possession “vaporizers and a peculiar smelling liquid” of cannabis oil.

The 31-year-old double Olympic gold medalist faces a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years if found guilty.

“Russia is one of the countries that has a zero tolerance policy towards narcotics,” said William E. Butler, professor of law at the State University of Pennsylvania, flanked by The print on the telephone. Every year in Russia 80,000 or 90,000 people are to be convicted of drug-related offenses. It is not uncommon. ”

Currency exchange

The fear is that the case of Mmyself Griner could be confronted not on the basis of accumulated evidence, but on his worth in a possible prisoner swap.

“At this stage, the facts about her case are no longer viewed from the same angle,” notes Maria Popova, an associate professor at McGill University. Since she is American, she is not very relevant whether or not she had drugs. The question is whether Russia wants to trade it for someone. ”

In April, a former Marine, Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison for violence, was exchanged for a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted 12 years ago for drug trafficking in the United States.

Fair trials

In Russia, for example, justice does not have the same independence as Canada. That doesn’t mean a fair trial isn’t possible for common crimes, experts say. But when it comes to politics, the issue becomes more dangerous.

“If she becomes political, she will be doomed,” said Jeffrey Kahn, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, united in Texas. There is no doubt. Mais si elle est traitée comme une personne ordinaire – en d’autres mots, si ce qu’on entend sur intérêt du Kremlin ou peu importe n’est pas vrai -, je pense qu’on pourrait s’attendre à un procès right. “

The problem is that there have been so many cases of dissidents, activists, opponents of the regime who have not had fair trial that they plant a seed of distrust – the size of a grapefruit – in the heads of observers around the world.

Jeffrey Kahn, professor of law at Southern Methodist University

He is concerned about the information received so far, in particular his detention pending trial: a judge has refused house arrest. The time devoted to investigations, despite the evidence appearing to be rather limited, and Mr.myself Griner on a trial that could last up to two months is also sending worrying signals.

“We don’t know if it’s a political process,” he says. But the evidence is starting to pile up. ”

An example … or not

Last May, the US State Department claimed that the athlete was unjustly detained, without explaining the reasons for that conclusion. His file was then transferred to the United States Special Envoy responsible for the people taken hostage.

Mr. Butler, remember that we still know little about the athlete’s defense, who has not spoken.

I don’t see why Russia wants to make an example of it. The current state of political relations between states doesn’t help, but I don’t necessarily see it as a deciding factor.

William E. Butler, professor of law at Pennsylvania State University

Like many WNBA athletes, Brittney Griner took advantage of the two-season hiatus to play overseas. Since 2014 she has been part of the UMMC Ekaterinburg team in Russia.

An online petition calling for his return to the United States had collected more than 288,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

With Agence France-Presse

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