US basketball star Brittney Griner testifies in Russian court

Griner tells court when she was arrested, the translator did not explain documents she was asked to sign, or relay all of her responses.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner testified in her trial for the first time on Wednesday and said she did not intend to break Russian law and did not plan to use banned substances inside Russia [Alexander Zemlianichenko/ Pool via AP]

US basketball player Brittney Griner has testified in a Russian court that she was not read her rights when she was detained at a Moscow airport in February, as she stands trial for drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in prison.

During her testimony on Wednesday, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star described making a gruelling 13-hour flight to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from COVID-19. Griner said she still does not know how the cannabis oil ended up in her bag but explained she had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed it in haste.

“My rights were not read to me,” Griner said at Khimki District Court outside Moscow, according to a translator.

“I took my phone out, called family, my agent and a translator who works with the team.”

Brittney Griner
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner said she was not provided adequate translation on her arrest, when she was asked to sign documents in Russian [Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool via AP]

The 31-year-old, who has played in Russia during the league’s offseason, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt from her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, Griner testified that she was stopped at customs as she was about to board a flight to Ekaterinburg, a city 1,400km (870 miles) east of the Russian capital.

Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, was on her way to join her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for the playoffs.

Griner said officers removed vape cartridges from her luggage, and opened and sniffed their contents. She said she was asked to sign documents and used Google Translate to understand them.

The case against Griner has highlighted strained relations between Russia and the United States that have plunged to a new post-Cold War low over the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

US officials and prominent athletes have said Griner has been wrongly detained and have called for her immediate release, saying she is being used as a political pawn to secure the release of a Russian detained in the US or other concessions from Washington.

The Kremlin has said the case against Griner has nothing to do with politics and that she should be tried for violating Russian laws.

Seated in the defendant’s cage on Wednesday, Griner said she was provided with a translator at the airport but he only said “sign this, sign that” without explaining the content of the documents.

Griner pleaded guilty earlier in the trial but denied she intended to break Russian law.

Griner’s trial started July 1, and Wednesday was her first appearance as a witness. The court outside Moscow held five previous sessions that were short, some lasting only about an hour.

Brittney Griner
If convicted of the drug charges Brittney Griner could receive a sentence of 10 years in prison [Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via AP]

It is unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorised Griner’s detention until December 20.

During Tuesday’s court session of about 90 minutes, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the worldwide use of medicinal cannabis. Griner’s defence team has submitted a US doctor’s letter recommending the basketball player use medical cannabis to treat pain.

Griner testified Wednesday that she was suffering from pain from injuries sustained during her basketball career. She emphasised that cannabis oil is widely used in the US for medicinal purposes and has fewer negative effects than some other painkillers

A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said last week that the legalisation of cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the US had no bearing on what happens in Russia.

Source: News Agencies