KHIMKI, Russia -U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner returned to a Russian court on Thursday for the second hearing of her trial on drug charges that could see her sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, days after she urged U.S. President Joe Biden to secure her release.
The 31-year-old was charged with intentionally importing narcotics into Russia. She was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a substance illegal in the country, and has been kept in custody since.
She has not yet entered a plea in the trial, which began last week.
Griner arrived in court shortly after 1500 Moscow time (1200 GMT) on Thursday, wearing red trousers and a red t-shirt, a Reuters journalist at the courtroom reported.
In a handwritten note, Griner appealed to Biden directly earlier this week to step up U.S. efforts to bring her home.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees…” Griner wrote. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”
Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday, telling her he was working to have her released “as soon as possible”, the White House said.
U.S. officials and many athletes have called for the release of Griner – or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans – who they say has been wrongfully detained.
Griner’s detention has also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian citizen in U.S. custody.
Russian authorities say there is no basis to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political despite Moscow’s fraught relations with United States over the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington stop talking about the fate of Griner.
Griner, a centre for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to boost her income during the WNBA off-season, like several other U.S. players.
The Russian foreign ministry has said Griner could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)