KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday during her drug trial in Russia that an interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her interrogation and that officials had asked 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 in her luggage when she arrived in Russia, but claims she had no criminal intent and inadvertently packed the cartridges.
During her 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 doesn’t know how the cannabis oil ended up in her bag, but explained that she got a doctor’s recommendation and packed in a hurry.
She remembers being arrested at the airport on February 17 after inspectors found the cartridges.
Along with the interpreter who provided an incomplete translation, Griner said she was given no explanation of her rights or access to a lawyer and was instructed to sign documents without an explanation of what they entailed. .
After hours of proceedings that she didn’t understand, she was allowed to hand over her belongings to a lawyer before being led away in handcuffs, Griner said. She said she received only a cursory translation of the allegations 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 Wednesday was his first appearance as a witness. The court outside Moscow has held five previous sessions which were 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. She traveled to Russia to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason.
During Tuesday’s approximately 90-minute 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 medicinal 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. Last week, the famous American footballer Megan Rapinoe said “she is being held as a political prisoner, obviously”.
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped 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 feature in an exchange.
U.S. officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials said no trade could be discussed until the legal proceedings against Griner are concluded.
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