Brittney Griner, the WNBA star detained in Russia on suspicion of drug possession, appeared in a court near Moscow on Tuesday while her defense team wore a black and gray sweatshirt with the slogan “Black lives for peace” on the back. printed. prove that she had no intention of breaking the law.
She was escorted into a courtroom by a group of police officers, one of whom wore a balaclava, and stood in a metal cage, with photos of her relatives, teammates and friends, according to video footage of the scene published by Russian state television.
After being detained at a Moscow airport a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms. Griner has become an unlikely pawn in a diplomatic game between Moscow and Washington. With her guilty plea making the verdict a foregone conclusion, experts said her best hope was that the Biden government would find a way to exchange her for a high-profile Russian detained by the United States.
In court hearings, her defense team pleaded for leniency, saying that Ms Griner had no intention of smuggling narcotics into Russia and that, like many international athletes, she had used cannabis to relieve pain from injuries.
A narcology expert testified in court on Tuesday, Ms Griner’s lawyers said, to present a case that in some countries, including the United States, medicinal cannabis is “a popular treatment, especially among athletes.”
“With the prescription in place, Brittney may have used it for medical purposes, but not for recreational purposes,” said Maria Blagovolina, one of Mrs. Griner’s attorneys and a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners, a firm in Moscow.
At the previous hearing, the lawyers presented a note from Ms Griner’s doctor recommending cannabis to treat her pain. Ms. Griner was also due to appear in court on Wednesday, when she could be called to testify.
Ms. Griner had traveled to Russia because she played for a team in the country to earn extra money during the off-season. Russian customs officials discovered in her luggage two vape cartridges containing hash oil – a derivative of cannabis.
Ms. Griner was taken into custody near Moscow and charged with intentionally smuggling the vape cartridges, a charge that carries a jail term of up to 10 years.
On July 7, Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, saying she inadvertently carried a banned substance into Russia for rushing to pack. The Russian authorities have indicated that no possible exchange can take place before a court ruling.
US officials have said they are doing everything they can to return Ms Griner home, arguing that she was wrongly detained. Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said such statements were “political, biased and illegal.”
“If a US citizen was detained on drug trafficking charges and she does not deny it herself, then this should be in accordance with Russian law and not the laws passed in San Francisco,” Ms Zakharova said.