American basketball star Britney Griner testified at his drug trial in Russia on Wednesday that an interpreter provided during his interrogation translated only a fraction of what was said and that officials ordered him to sign documents without providing an explanation .
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. She admitted in court earlier this month that she had vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil when she arrived in Russia, but argues she had no criminal intent and the canisters ended up in his luggage inadvertently.
During his testimony, the Phoenix Mercury star described taking a grueling 13-hour flight to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from Covid-19. Griner said she still knew how the cannabis oil, for which she had a doctor’s recommendation, ended up in her bag, but explained that she packed it in a hurry when she was very stressed.
She recalled how her luggage was checked when she arrived in Moscow and how she was discarded after inspectors found the cartridges.
Along with the interpreter who provided an incomplete translation, Griner said she received no explanation of her rights or access to lawyers and was instructed to sign documents without receiving an explanation of what they involved.
Griner said that after hours of proceedings she did not understand, she was allowed to turn over her personal belongings to a lawyer before being led away in handcuffs. She said she received only a cursory translation of the allegations against her during a February 19 hearing in which a court sanctioned her arrest.
Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs. His trial began on July 1 and the previous five hearings have been short, some lasting only around an hour.
It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until December 20. Griner went to Russia playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.
At Tuesday’s hearing, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the worldwide use of medical cannabis, which remains illegal in Russia. Griner’s defense team submitted a letter from an American physician recommending the basketball player use medical cannabis to treat pain.
Griner testified Wednesday that she was in pain from injuries sustained during her basketball career. She pointed out that cannabis oil is widely used in the United States for medical purposes and has fewer negative effects than some other pain relievers.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in parts of the United States has no bearing on what happens in Russia.
The slow trial and Griner’s five-month detention drew sharp criticism from teammates and supporters in the United States, who officially declared her “wrongfully detained,” a designation strongly rejected by Russian officials.
Griner was arrested in February amid heightened tensions between the United States and Moscow before Russia sent troops to Ukraine later that month. Some supporters claim she is being held in Russia as a pawn, possibly for a prisoner exchange. US soccer player Megan Rapinoe said last week “she’s being held as a political prisoner, obviously”.
Russian media speculated that Griner could be exchanged for prominent Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, could also figure in an exchange.
U.S. officials did not comment on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials said no trade could be discussed until the legal proceedings against Griner are concluded.