Brittney Griner goes on trial in Russia

US basketball star says she is 'keeping the faith' as she faces charges over transporting drugs

Two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA player Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki City Court near Moscow, Russia. EPA
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US basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial in a Russian court on Friday to face drugs charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February amid strained relations between Russia and the US over the invasion of Ukraine. Russian authorities claimed they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

She was seen arriving in handcuffs at Khimki City Court at noon local time on Friday, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and shoes without laces, as they are forbidden in Russian jails.

The prosecutor in the case told the court that Griner was being charged with intentionally transporting drugs and the athlete said she understood the charges.

Three employees of the US embassy, including deputy of chief of mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. Griner was seated in a cage with a zip-lock bag of cookies and a bottle of mineral water.

Griner said she was “keeping the faith” at her trial, Ms Rood told reporters.

Ms Rood said she was able to speak with the two-time Olympian, who was “as well as can be expected”.

The Phoenix Mercury star told Reuters she was finding her Moscow detention difficult because of her inability to speak Russian and that she was not able to keep up with physical fitness. Her lawyers told Reuters they would not say whether or not Griner would plead guilty.

The court adjourned until July 7, US media reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Griner's case 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,” he told reporters.

“There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes. Only the court can pass a verdict.”

US officials claim that Griner has been “wrongfully detained” and should immediately be released. Russian media outlets have speculated she could be part of a prisoner swap in exchange for arms trader Victor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US for conspiracy to murder and for providing aid to a terrorist organisation.

Griner's wife, Cherelle, said she hopes to have a meeting with President Joe Biden.

“I would love for him to tell me he cares,” Ms Griner said in an interview with CNN on Thursday.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: July 07, 2022, 2:38 PM