Brittney Griner, the American basketball star detained in Russia on drug charges, told a courtroom Wednesday that she had been tossed right into a bewildering legal system with little explanation of what was happening and what she might do to attempt to defend herself.
Ms. Griner described arriving in Russia after an exhausting 13-hour flight — and shortly after recovering from Covid — and finding herself in an interrogation through which much of what was being said remained untranslated. She said she was also told to sign papers with no explanation of what they were.
It was her first court testimony about her arrest in a case that has taken on outsize importance due to the war in Ukraine.
Ms. Griner arrived together with her wrists shackled in front of her. She was flanked by Russian security agents, including some wearing bulletproof vests, their faces covered by balaclavas.
The authorities detained Ms. Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, about per week before President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine in February. She was accused of getting two vape cartridges of hashish oil in her luggage when she arrived at an airport near Moscow on her strategy to Yekaterinburg, where she plays for a team within the W.N.B.A. off-season.
What to Know About Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia
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Why was she in Russia? Griner was in Russia playing for a world team through the W.N.B.A. off-season. Trading rest for overseas competition is common among the many league’s players for a lot of reasons, but often the most important motivation is money.
Russia didn’t make her detention public until after the invasion began.
Earlier this month, Ms. Griner pleaded guilty, saying that she had unintentionally carried a banned substance into Russia because she had packed in a rush. In Russia, a guilty plea doesn’t end a trial and the proceedings are expected to proceed into August. She faces a possible 10-year sentence.
Ms. Griner’s lawyers have said they hope her guilty plea will make the court more lenient, but experts say that her best hope is that the Biden administration finds a strategy to swap her for a high-profile Russian who’s being held by the USA.
On Wednesday, the American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, said the USA had “put a considerable proposal on the table weeks ago” to realize the discharge of Ms. Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was sentenced last yr to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. He declined to debate details of the offer.
But an individual briefed on the negotiations said that the United State offered to trade an imprisoned Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan, and that President Biden — who has been under growing political pressure to free the Americans — had backed the offer.
Testifying from an enclosed witness box on Wednesday, Ms. Griner said she had been pulled aside during a luggage check in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, based on certainly one of her lawyers, Aleksandr Boikov, from the Moscow Legal Center.
The Plight of Brittney Griner in Russia
The American basketball star has endured months in a Russian prison on charges of smuggling hashish oil into the country.
Ms. Griner testified that she had been told to sign documents during her detention without an evidence of what they meant, Mr. Boikov said. An interpreter provided to Ms. Griner after her arrest translated “almost nothing,” he said, and she or he was held for 16 hours before a lawyer got here to assist her.
Maria Blagovolina, a lawyer with the Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners firm who can be representing Ms. Griner, said in an announcement her client had told the court that she had a “doctor’s prescription for the usage of medical cannabis” and had “emphasized that she never planned to bring it to Russia and use it.”