Basketball player Brittney Griner began trial today in a court in Moscow on drug charges that could leave her facing up to a decade in prison.
The case coincides massively with extremely fraught relations between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
The case was brought after Russian authorities claim to have found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport in February. She was arrested and charged with smuggling a large quantity of drugs
Griner is a star in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
The prosecutor told Griner today in court that she was being charged with intentionally transporting narcotics. The judge set the next hearing for July 7.
Three U.S. Embassy representatives, including the deputy of chief of mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. U.S. officials say Griner has been detained wrongfully.
The Kremlin denies that it is politically motivated.
American officials and scores of athletes have called for the release of Griner, saying she has been wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to the U.S.
Griner’s detention prompted concerns that Moscow could use her as a negotiation chip in order to release high-profile Russians in U.S. custody.
Griner has regularly played in Russia as well as in the WNBA. She was traveling this time to Russia to play for EuroLeague team UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she had worked since 2014 during the off-season. Even if Griner is acquitted in the trial, the Russian government has the authority to overturn any court decision and still send her to prison.