The trial began today for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February.
Prosecutors revealed their case against Griner, alleging that she had brought two canisters of cannabis oil with her to Russia, and which were allegedly discovered in her luggage by customs officials at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside of Moscow.
NPR reports that while access to the trial for the press is “tightly controlled,” U.S. embassy officials were present for Friday’s session which featured two witnesses for the prosecution, both customs agents.
The session was the first of four that the prosecution will have to make its case, Griner’s lawyer told NPR. Additionally, he told the news agency that while Griner is “a bit worried” about the possibility of a prison sentence – she could face up to ten years if convicted – but “she’s a tough lady and I think she will manage.”
Additional coverage from The New York Times reports that Thursday’s session was adjourned until next Thursday after “some witnesses failed to show up,” as originally reported by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Griner had traveled to Russia to join her teammates on UMMC Ekaterinburg, a team in the Russian Premier League for which Griner plays in the WNBA off-season. Although considered one of the top players in women’s basketball, like many of her peers Griner plays for other teams off-season to compensate for the relatively low salaries that WNBA players earn compared to their male counterparts.
In May, the U.S. State Department reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” which means that it believes the charges against her are irrelevant to her detainment. While the Kremlin has denied that the charges against Griner are politically motivated, the change in her classification signals that the U.S. government believes otherwise.
The start of the trial was announced earlier this week, amid speculation in the Russian media that Griner might be offered in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer currently held in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy to sell weapons to terrorist organizations.
However, The Times reports that the Biden administration, “despite being under pressure to free Ms. Griner, is reluctant to create an incentive for the arrest or abduction of Americans abroad.”