American basketball star Brittney Griner testified on July 27 at her trial in Russia and said the authorities who arrested her at a Moscow airport in February failed to provide an explanation of her rights and did not fully translate all that was said during her arrest.
Griner spoke at a hearing at the Khimki district court outside Moscow, saying she was pulled aside at the airport on February 17 after inspectors found cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage.
Seated in the defendant’s cage, the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star said she was provided with a translator, but he only said “Sign this, sign that.”
The interpreter “didn’t explain the content of the paper,” Griner said. “I didn’t know exactly what I was signing.”
In addition, she said she received neither an explanation of her rights nor access to a lawyer.
Griner, 31, said before she was arrested officers removed vape cartridges from her luggage, opened them, and sniffed their contents.
She explained that she had a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal cannabis for treatment of pain from injuries sustained during her basketball career. Medical cannabis remains illegal in Russia, and Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.
Griner, who was stopped at the airport while returning to play in the Russian league for the Yekaterinburg team, pleaded guilty earlier in the trial but denied she intended to break Russian law.
“I did not think of or plan to bring banned substances into Russia,” Griner reiterated in her testimony on July 27.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball for the United States, is currently missing the 2022 WNBA season in which her team, the Phoenix Mercury, continues to keep her detention in the public eye and pressure the U.S. government to do more on her behalf.
U.S. officials and prominent athletes say Griner has been wrongly detained and is being used as a political pawn to secure the release of a Russian detained in the United States or relief from sanctions imposed by Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin has said the case against Griner has nothing to do with politics and that she should be tried for violating Russian laws.
U.S. and Russian media have reported that the United States could seek the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, detained in December 2018 and accused of espionage, in a prisoner exchange.