Brittney Griner trial: WNBA star testifies interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during questioning

KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday at her drug trial in Russia that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her interrogation and officials ordered her to sign documents without give an explanation.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. He admitted in court earlier this month that he had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage when he arrived in Russia, but claims he had no criminal intent and inadvertently packed the cartridges.

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 he still knows how the cannabis oil ended up in his bag, but explained that he had a doctor’s recommendation and had packed it in a hurry.

She recalled being detained at the airport on February 17 after inspectors found the cartridges.

Along with the interpreter who provided an incomplete translation, Griner said he was not given an explanation of his rights or access to an attorney and was instructed to sign documents without an explanation of what they entailed.

After hours of proceedings she did not understand, she was allowed to turn over her personal belongings to an attorney before being led away in handcuffs, Griner said. She said that she received only a cursory translation of the accusations during a hearing on February 19 where 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 on the outskirts of Moscow held five earlier sessions that were brief, some lasting just an hour.

It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until Dec. 20. She went to Russia to play for a Russian team in the WNBA offseason.

During Tuesday’s roughly 90-minute court session, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about the worldwide use of medical cannabis, which remains illegal in Russia. Griner’s defense team submitted a letter from a US doctor recommending that the basketball player use medical cannabis to treat pain.

Griner testified Wednesday that he was in pain from injuries sustained during his basketball career. He stressed 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 spokesman said last week that the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the US was unrelated to what is happening in Russia.

Griner’s slow trial and five-month detention have drawn sharp criticism from her teammates and supporters in the United States, which formally declared her “wrongly detained,” a designation Russian authorities flatly rejected.

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 maintain that she is being held in Russia as a pawn, possibly for a prisoner swap. US soccer standout Megan Rapinoe said last week that 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 jailed in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia for espionage, could also figure in a swap.

US officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials have said no trade could be discussed until the legal process against Griner is concluded.

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