Brittney Griner, two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist, went on trial in Moscow this week on drug smuggling charges which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Griner’s supporters and US officials are advocating that she is being wrongfully detained and are pleading for her release. Others are worried that she will be used as a political pawn as tensions between US and Russia rise.
At the trial Griner was accused of smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
“Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” the prosecutor said, according to a TASS reporter in the hall of the Khimki City Court.
The prosecution argues that Griner “intended to import the drugs into Russia’s territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase,” according to TASS.
Cannabis oil is classified as a narcotic drug in Russia.
Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, said on Friday they were “unaware of any plans to exchange Griner for a Russian prisoner held in the US. We have no information about it, unfortunately,” the lawyers said during an impromptu press conference.
During the hearing, “an employee of the Sheremetyevo airport customs services was one of the two witnesses. He was interrogated on the circumstances of Griner’s detention and personal search,” the lawyers said.
US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, emphasized that Griner had been “wrongfully detained, 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 [Griner] is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith. The US government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US nationals home,” Rood said.
Griner’s detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked a wave of support among dozens of organizations in the US that have joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in urging President Joe Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home safely as soon as possible.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, pleaded with US officials to do more to secure her wife’s release.
“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action. I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they’re telling me are also matching their actions and so it’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let up. It’s over 130 days and BG’s still not back.”
Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters that Griner’s “detention is still tough on our team. We hope Griner will return home soon and that President Biden will take the steps to ensure that she comes home.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.