- WNBA star Griner has been detained in Russia since February
- U.S. officials and athletes have called for her release
- This content was produced in Russia where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner arrived at a courtroom on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday to face trial on drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in prison.
Arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs, the 31-year-old athlete was seen wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. She was accompanied by three people, with U.S. embassy staff also in attendance.
One woman led her handcuffed down a corridor inside the building. Cameras were not permitted in the court.
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 Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport in February. read more
Griner, a star in the U.S.-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.
Asked about the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied it was politically motivated.
“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters. “Only the court can pass a verdict.”
U.S. officials and a score of athletes have called for the release of Griner – or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans. They say she has been wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to her family in the United States.
Griner’s detention also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medalist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian in U.S. custody.
The Kremlin has said that Griner violated Russian laws and denied she was being held hostage amid Russia’s stand-off with the United States.
Griner, a centre for the Phoenix Mercury, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, like several other U.S. players offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.
However some have now left the Russian league, amid Griner’s detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.