MOSCOW — The spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry lashed out Thursday at the United States characterizing basketball star Brittney Griner’s jailing on drug charges as “wrongful detention,” saying it shows disrespect for Russian law.
Griner has been jailed since she was arrested in mid-February at a Moscow airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. The Phoenix Mercury standout and two-time Olympic gold medalist acknowledged in court this month that she had the canisters, but said she had no intent to break the law.
She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Her trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
The State Department in May designated Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs - effectively, the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the U.S. has no bearing on what happens in Russia.
“If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Zakharova said.
“You understand, if drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path,” she added.
Russian media have persistently speculated that Griner could be exchanged for prominent Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, may also figure in an exchange.
U.S. officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials have said no exchange could be discussed until the conclusion of the legal proceedings against Griner. It is unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized Griner’s detention until Dec. 20.
Meanwhile, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry took a serious stance as host of the ESPYs awards show Wednesday night by calling for Griner’s release.
“There are a lot of people working hard right now to secure Brittney’s release, but as we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf,” Curry said. “ … We cannot stop fighting for her. We cannot stop believing for her, and we will not stop hoping for the day when we can welcome her home safely.”
Curry wore Griner’s Phoenix Mercury jersey under his track suit.
Curry was joined by WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith on stage while calling for Griner’s release.
“It’s been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said. “All throughout that time, we’ve kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts even though we know that ain’t nearly enough to bring her home, y’all.”
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe admonished her fellow athletes for not doing enough to speak out during her acceptance speech.
“For me, the most striking thing is that BG’s not here. BG deserves to be free, she’s being held as a political prisoner, obviously,” Rapinoe said while accepting a trophy for best play at the show honoring the past year’s top athletes and moments in sports.
“Like what are we doing here dressed up like we are when our sister is detained abroad? We haven’t done enough, none of us. We can do more, we can support her more, and just let her know that we love her so much.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer contributed to this report.
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