More than four months after being detained on cannabis smuggling charges by Russian authorities, WNBA star Britney Griner has finally had her first day in court,CNN reports.
On Friday, the 31-year-old’s case was presented by the prosecution, who allege that she was apprehended on February 17 at the Moscow airport carrying 0.702 grams of cannabis oil in vape cartridge distributed between various pieces of luggage. The United States has determined that she is being “wrongfully detained,” and her case is being supervised by the government’s envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens.
"It's really, really difficult,” Cherelle told CNN in the locker room of Griner’s WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury. “This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action. I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they're telling me is also matching their actions and so it's been the hardest thing to balance because I can't let up. It's over 130 days and BG's still not back."
In June, Cherelle was unable to receive the first phone call with her wife since the detention due to US embassy staffing issues.
She’s not alone in her thinking that the Biden administration needs to do more to get Griner out of Russia. In June, a coalition group of 40 advocacy groups including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign wrote a letter to President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris saying, “We now urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely."
Griner did not speak during the hearing’s first day. According to her lawyers, “She has the right to do so later.”
The player’s legal team, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, said that they have no information regarding a rumored prisoner trade between the US and Russia that could result in Griner’s release.
A photo of Griner shot before the Friday hearing showed her in glasses and a white Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. Not to unleash any wild internet conspiracies regarding her wardrobe or the veracity of the charges against Griner, but it’s worth noting that Hendrix was arrested in 1969 at the Toronto airport on what a jury later determined to be false drug possession charges. Hendrix said he had no idea how the three bags of heroin that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found in his luggage got there. His friends insisted that though Hendrix did other drugs like weed and uppers, he was not a heroin user.
A Kremlin spokesperson told the press that “her arrest cannot be politically motivated,” given allegations that Griner was in possession of cannabis, which is considered an illegal narcotic in Russia. Such accusations have been launched at Russian authorities, particularly given the suspicious timing of the athlete’s arrest, which took place one week before the country’s ongoing attack on Ukraine.
Griner has been chosen as an honorary starter for the July 10 WNBA All-Star Game, which seems only right, given that she’s been selected as an All-Star during each of her years in the league in which an All-Star game has taken place.