The trial of the American basketball starbegan Friday in a courtroom in Moscow. The 31-year-old WNBA star faces up to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling.
Griner arrived at the Khimki City Court, on the outskirts of Moscow, in handcuffs and a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, accompanied by her legal team. The judge heard testimony during a three-hour hearing before announcing that the trial would resume on July 7.
Griner, who plays for a Russian basketball team outside the WNBA season, was arrested at Moscow’s international airport in February, just days before Russia announced its official release.causing relations with the United States to spiral downward.
After a sniffer dog at the airport found vaping cartridges in her luggage, authorities later said they contained “a significant amount” of cannabis-derived oil. Marijuana is illegal in Russia for recreational and medical use, and its possession carries severe penalties.
Griner has not made any public statements since her arrest, and her stance on whether to accept or reject the accusation remains unclear.
US chargé d’affaires Elizabeth Rood attended Friday’s court hearing, telling reporters afterwards that Griner “kept the faith.” Red said she had spoken to Griner and that the basketball player “did as good as can be expected”.
“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and poses a threat to the safety of everyone who travels, works and lives abroad.”
Rood added that the US government was working at the “highest level” to bring “Britney and all wrongfully detained US citizens home safely”.
Most media outlets were not allowed to enter the courtroom on Friday, which the court said was at Griner’s request, according to the Mediazona outlet, which covers justice in Russia.
Russia expert Jeff Hawn told CBS News this week that Russia was, in fact, holding Griner “hostage.”
“It’s very clear that they didn’t have to bring the seriousness of the charges as they did,” he told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata. “They chose to do that to get the attention of the US and threaten it with the worst possible outcome.”
With relations between Moscow and Washington at a low ebb since the days of the Cold War, Griner’s family and teammates had kept a low profile to avoid drawing public attention to her case and potentially giving her an even more valuable asset. an asset to Russian propaganda. In May, however, the United States Department of State declared her wrongly detained and transferred oversight of her case to the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
The Kremlin on Friday rejected the idea that Griner’s case was politically motivated.
“It cannot be politically motivated,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a briefing. “She was in possession of illegal drugs containing narcotics.”
Griner’s wife Cherelle told Pastor Al Sharpton on his radio show this week that she hadn’t heard her partner’s voice since she was detained, but said Griner had let her know through letters that she was “struggling and terrified.”
“I won’t let them break me,” Griner said in the letters, according to Cherelle. “I know they’re trying, but I’m going to do my best to hold on until I can get home.”
“I hope it’s soon,” Cherelle said, “because I’m not well.”
Griner supporters have urged the Biden administration to allow a prisoner swap, similar to the one the previous one sawin exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was serving a 20-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in April.
Russian media has speculated that Moscow could try to trade Griner for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The so-called “Merchant of Death” is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiracy to kill Americans and aiding a terrorist organization.
Another former US Marine remains in custody in Russia:is serving a 16-year prison sentence on charges of espionage. The US government has said it is being used as a bargaining chip in possible negotiations between Moscow and Washington.