American basketball star Griner is on trial in Russia for drug trafficking

  • WNBA star Griner detained in Russia since February
  • The Kremlin says the case is not politically motivated
  • Athlete says she finds detention difficult
  • This content was produced in Russia, where the law limits coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

KHIMKI, Russia, July 1 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner stood trial in a court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday to hear drug charges that could see her serve up to 10 years in prison Russian.

Griner, 31, was officially informed during this first hearing that she was charged with intentionally importing narcotics into Russia. She spoke to say she understood the charges. The judge scheduled the next hearing for July 7.

Griner, who has played regularly in Russia as well as in the United States’ Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested at a Moscow airport in February allegedly with vape cartridges containing vape oil. hashish in his luggage.

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The case takes place in a context of strong tension between Moscow and Washington around the conflict in Ukraine. US officials say Griner was wrongfully detained.

Griner arrived at Khimki City Court near Sheremetyevo Airport in handcuffs shortly after noon (0900 GMT), wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and slip-on sneakers.

Three US Embassy employees, including Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. Griner sat in the defendant’s cage with a plastic bag of biscuits and a bottle of mineral water.

Griner told a Reuters reporter that she found the detention difficult because she did not speak Russian and was unable to maintain physical fitness because she could only do general exercises such as stretching.

Her attorneys declined to say how she intended to plead.


“She’s a bit worried because she has the trial and the sentencing in the near future. But she’s a tough woman. I think she’ll get through this,” attorney Alexander Boykov said after the audience.

Rood said the United States was working very hard to bring Griner home: “She asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and keeping the faith.”

Asked about the affair, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that it was politically motivated.

“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs containing narcotics. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide penalties for such crimes,” he told reporters. “Only the court can render a verdict.”

US officials and scores of athletes have called for the release of Griner – or “BG” as basketball fans call him.

Some have expressed concern that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medalist to negotiate the release of a top Russian from US custody.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, had played for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to supplement her earnings during the WNBA offseason, like several other American players.

Some have left the Russian league since Griner’s detention and the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, while the WNBA’s regular season kicked off in May.

Reached by email Friday, the WNBA said it had no immediate statement.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, told CNN in an interview on Thursday that she was hoping for a meeting with US President Joe Biden, saying, “I would like him to tell me that he cares about me. “

“Rhetoric and actions don’t match,” she said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he had “no higher priority” than bringing Griner and other “wrongfully detained Americans” back.

“We won’t stop working until they find their loved ones,” he said.

U.S. Representative Colin Allred, a Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who met with State Department staff handling Griner’s case, told CNN it’s important for Griner supporters to continue to publicly plead for his release.

“At one point the best thing to do was to try to keep it out of the headlines,” he said. “We’re now at the point where outside political pressure, outside global pressure…hoping every kind of pressure can help.”

The U.S. government has warned citizens against travel to Russia in light of “the potential for harassment of U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.”

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Reuters reporting; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Gareth Jones and Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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