(Khimki) The trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner on drug smuggling charges opened behind closed doors in Russia on Friday, a case with strong political connotations amid the Russo-American crisis.
Updated yesterday at 10:46am.
The partially closed session with limited media presence in the courtroom was decided at “the request of the defense, at the request of Griner himself,” said Polina Vdovtsova, the court spokeswoman from Khimki, a town on the outskirts of Moscow.
In the afternoon, the trial was adjourned to July 7th.
The accused arrived in court handcuffed and wearing a T-shirt with the image of American musician Jimi Hendrix.
The Phoenix Mercury player arrived in Russia in February to play during the American off-season, a common practice for basketball players who sometimes live better abroad than at home.
Upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested with the United States (2016, 2020) in possession of vapes and cannabis-based liquids.
The prosecutor said on Friday that the amount in solid form would have been the equivalent of less than one gram of cannabis.
A customs officer testified at Friday’s hearing.
The basketball player faces up to 10 years in prison.
The US authorities initially kept a low profile about his case, which only became known to the public on March 5th.
Against the background of the further deteriorating Russian-American relations, in particular due to the Ukraine conflict, the highest authorities in Washington then took up the matter and declared that Russia was “unfairly” holding the 2.03 meter long speedboat.
His case is being followed by the United States Special Envoy in charge of the hostage-taking.
“The US Embassy and the country care deeply about this case,” US Embassy Representative Elizabeth Rood said in court.
Mme Griner “told me to convey that morale is high and that it keeps the faith,” she added.
However, in an interview with CNN, the wife of the arrested athlete, Cherelle, felt that the actions of the American authorities were inadequate, despite the good intentions.
“I don’t think the maximum effort is being made because rhetoric doesn’t match action,” she said, citing an instance of a planned phone call between the couple that she says was cut short because of the message.
Cherelle Griner said she hopes to meet President Joe Biden because, she said, he has the “power” to bring Brittney back.
Defense attorney Alexander Boïkov said during a break that the accused had not yet spoken in court.
He also assured that she had no “complaints about her detention conditions”.
Given the Russian case law in similar cases, the young woman faces a heavy sentence, to be served in a Russian penal colony.
Americans and Russians accuse each other of having imprisoned their respective nationals for political purposes. Several prisoner exchanges have taken place in the past.
In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, who had been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for what he denied was violence, was swapped for a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been in the US since 2010 on drug trafficking linked to the Colombian FARC United States was imprisoned.
Further exchanges of this kind would be the subject of discussions.
Among the names most frequently mentioned are Paul Whelan, an American who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage and maintains his innocence, and the famous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States US in prison.
After Brittney Griner’s performance, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he and his country had “no higher priority than bringing her and other wrongly imprisoned Americans like Paul Whelan home.”
A case similar to that of the basketball player led to a diplomatic agreement between Moscow and Israel.
In January 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Israeli-American Naama Issachar, who was jailed in Russia for “drug trafficking,” during a meeting in Moscow with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who went with the young lady.
Mme Issachar was arrested in April 2019 while passing through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on a flight from India to Israel connecting in the Russian capital. Nine grams of cannabis were found in his checked baggage.