A Russian court on Thursday extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner by two months and denied an appeal by her legal team, who was waiting for her to be remanded in custody.
Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since mid-February on drug charges that could lead to a sentence of up to 10 years if convicted. Griner “agrees” and has seen his Russian legal team several times a week while in custody, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be publicly identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Russia’s Federal Customs Service said on March 5 that its officials had arrested an American basketball player, who was later identified as Griner. Customs officials accused Griner of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in his luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow.
On Thursday, Russian news agency Tass reported that Griner’s detention had been extended to May 19 during a hearing. Griner’s legal team in Russia had waited for her to be remanded in custody, but was not surprised that her arrest was denied, according to the person who knew the situation.
The investigation into the charges is ongoing, and it is typical for a Russian court to add time to detention until a trial date is set, if necessary, depending on the person. Thursday’s hearing did not address the merits of the charges, the person said.
The WNBA season begins on May 6th. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time All Star of the Phoenix Mercury, is one of the game’s most prominent stars.
She is detained at a time of increasingly strained relations between the United States and Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month. U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining and convicting U.S. citizens on suspicious grounds.
According to experts, the continued detention of a high-profile American could even be an effort by Russia to gain influence in the political and economic confrontation with Washington over the invasion.
Tass reported that Griner had not been visited by U.S. consular officials, despite Russia’s willingness to facilitate a meeting. But last week, Rep. Colin Allred, a Democrat from Texas, told the New York Times that Russian officials had denied him consular access to Griner.
“It’s already a violation of international standards and the way these things are handled when they happen to Americans abroad,” Allred said last week.
Griner is one of many WNBA players competing internationally to supplement his American salary, and has played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years.
Those close to Griner have said little in public about the arrest since it became widely known on March 5, probably in hopes of arranging his return through quiet diplomacy.
On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, joined a growing number of politicians and public figures who have shown support for Griner when she he tweeted “Free Brittney” with a link to a BBC article on Griner.