US basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial in a court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday on drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in prison.
The case, which coincides with fraught relations between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine, was brought after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Ms Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport in February.
Ms Griner, a star in the US-based Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested and charged with smuggling a large quantity of drugs, an offence that can carry up to 10 years in prison.
The athlete (31) was seen arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs shortly after noon Moscow time, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.
The prosecutor told Ms Griner she was being charged with intentionally transporting narcotics. Griner spoke to say she understood the charges.
Three employees of the US embassy were present in the courtroom, where Ms Griner was seated in a cage with a zip-lock bag of cookies and a bottle of mineral water.
Asked about the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied it was politically motivated.
US officials and a score of athletes have called for the release of Ms Griner. They say she has been wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to her family in the United States.
Ms Griner’s detention also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian in US custody.
The Kremlin has said Ms Griner violated Russian laws and denied she was being held hostage amid Russia’s stand-off with the United States.
The centre for the Phoenix Mercury had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, like several other US players offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.
However some have now left the Russian league, amid her detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Ms Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, told CNN in an interview on Thursday evening that she was hoping for a meeting with US president Joe Biden.
“I would love for him to tell me he cares,” Cherelle Griner said. — Reuters