Griner testifies in Russian drugs trial
American basketball star Brittney Griner claimed at her Russian drugs trial on Wednesday that she wasn't provided with a full translation of the circumstances surrounding her detention at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, and that she signed documents without officials providing her with an explanation of what they were.
Griner, 31, who is one of the most well-known female basketball players in the world, was arrested on February 17 after she was found to be in possession of vape cartridges which contained cannabis oil.
She admitted in court that the cartridges found in her luggage belonged to her but maintains that she had accidentally included them in her personal belongings ahead of her trip to Russia, and declared that she had no criminal intent.
Griner, who was the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, represents Phoenix Mercury in the US but since 2015 has played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason.
She told the Khimki City Court just outside Moscow on Wednesday she was recovering from a Covid-19 infection when she made the trip to Russia earlier this year and that she remains unaware how the cannabis cartridges were added to her belongings - adding that she was given a doctor's recommendation to consume the substance in the United States.
Tuesday's hearing had seen a Russian expert tell the court that cannabis is prescribed in some countries such as the US to treat some ailments, although it remains illegal in Russia.
Speaking on Wednesday, Griner claimed that she was provided with an inadequate translation of the circumstances of her arrest, and that was she was not fully informed of her rights or given access to legal counsel.
The basketball player also claimed that she was required to sign documents without being given an explanation as to what they meant.
However, she “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them,” according to Maria Blagovolina, who is representing Griner in court.
She added that “Ekaterinburg became her second home, and she has always been enjoying her time in Russia.”
Griner faces a term of up to 10 years in prison if convicted. It remains unclear how long the trial might last, but her detention has been authorized up until December 20.
Several prominent NBA stars have called for Griner to be released, with many – including the US State Department – claiming that she has been wrongfully detained.
Others have contended that Griner is being held for use as a pawn in a future prisoner exchange with the United States – a hypothetical situation denied by the Russian authorities.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, though, has vociferously denied claims of 'wrongful detention' made by Griner's supporters.
“If a US citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova last week.
“If drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path,” she said.
Griner's trial is set to resume on August 2.