American basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial Friday, 4 1/2 months after her arrest on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to play for a Russian team, in a case that has unfolded amid tense relations between Moscow and Washington.
The initial session of the trial, which was adjourned until July 7, offered the most extensive public interaction between Griner and reporters since the Phoenix Mercury centre and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner, 31, was escorted into the courtroom in the capital’s suburb of Khimki while handcuffed and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. At a closed-door preliminary hearing Monday, her detention was extended for another six months, to Dec. 20.
Police have said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil when detained at the airport. She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Fewer than 1 per cent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.
The state-owned Tass news agency quoted Griner as saying in court that she understood the charges but would not comment further on them until later.
Two witnesses were questioned by the prosecution: an airport customs official, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session, according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses did not show up.
Alexander Boykov, an attorney for Griner, told reporters outside court that “I wouldn’t want to talk on the specifics of the case and on the charges and to comment on our position on it because it’s too early for it.”
Boykov also told RIA-Novosti that she has been exercising and taking walks in the detention area. The Russian website Business FM said that Griner, who smiled at times at reporters, said she wishes she could work out more and that she was struggling because she doesn’t understand Russian.
Her case comes at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already high tensions between the two countries. The U.S. then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia denounced the U.S. for sending weapons to Ukraine.
Elizabeth Rood, U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke with Griner, who “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”
“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”
She said the U.S. government, from its highest levels, “is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home safely.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution.
Find the latest must-read stories from the cannabis world at canadianevergreen.com, your go-to source for news, trends, products and lifestyle inspiration from the cannabis community and beyond. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.