July 14 (BP) — WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner was scheduled to return to court for a hearing in Russia on Thursday, her first appearance after her surprise decision to plead guilty to drug charges last week.
Russian authorities took the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist into custody in February after they said they found vaping cartridges in her luggage containing less than a gram of hashish oil, which is against the law in Russia.
After she was detained for weeks and her family appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to work to secure her release, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges last week, hoping for leniency from the court.
Griner could face as many as 10 years in prison on the charges.
Thursday’s hearing, which was to be Griner’s third in three weeks, could ultimately lead to a formal request for leniency by her attorney. The U.S. Embassy’s charge de’affaires Elizabeth Rood was expected to attend.
Some U.S. officials have argued that Russia is using the women’s basketball star, who played in Russia during the WNBA off-season, is being used as a political pawn.
In May, the U.S. State Department reclassified Griner’s case as a “wrongful detention” and the White House has not yet said whether it’s considering a possible prisoner exchange to secure her release.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow would not be pressured into making a deal.
“We urge the U.S. authorities not to exploit this sensitive matter affecting the fates of certain individuals, and we advise them to abandon futile attempts to pressure us,” Zakharova said according to The Washington Post.