The American basketball star Brittney Griner on Wednesday provided details of her arrest and first moments in Russian custody, testifying that an interpreter provided by authorities left her clueless during hours of questioning.
Griner, who was arrested in February at a Moscow airport for carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, faces up to 10 years on the drug charges.
The trial began earlier this month, with Griner pleading guilty to the charges during a court appearance on July 7. In her plea, Griner said “there was no intent,” and she “didn’t want to break the law.”
Griner said at that hearing that she preferred to give her official testimony later.
That moment arrived on Wednesday, with Griner testifying for the first time and shedding light on the lead-up and aftermath of her arrest on February 17.
According to the Associated Press, Griner “described making a grueling 13-hour flight to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from COVID-19,” and “said she still does not know how the cannabis oil for which she had a doctor’s recommendation ended up in her bag but explained she had packed in haste while under great stress.”
Most notably, Griner said “that a language interpreter provided during her questioning translated only a fraction of what was said and officials instructed her to sign documents without providing an explanation,” the Associated Press reported.
The AP has more: “Along with the interpreter provided an incomplete translation, Griner said she was offered neither an explanation of her rights nor access to lawyers and was instructed to sign documents without receiving an explanation of what they implied. After hours of proceedings she did not understand, she was allowed to hand over her personal belongings to a lawyer before being led away in handcuffs, Griner said. She said she received only a cursory translation of the allegations at her during a Feb. 19 hearing where a court sanctioned her arrest.”
According to The New York Times, Griner testified “from an enclosed witness box.”
The Times, citing Griner’s lawyers, said that the “verdict is expected in August.”
Griner’s detention has become a symbol of the contentious relationship between the United States and Russia, with her arrest coming days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In May, the U.S. reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” a move that signaled an intention to negotiate her release.
President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure, both from lawmakers and Griner’s brethren in the athletic world, to secure her freedom.
Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators filed a resolution calling for Griner’s release.
Earlier this month, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, after the WNBA star sent the president a letter.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Brittney Griner wrote in the letter to Biden.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” she continued. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”