Griner’s detention of WNBA in Moscow extended for a month
MOSCOW (AP) — WNBA star Brittney Griner had her pretrial detention in Russia extended by a month on Friday, her lawyer said.
Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press he believed the relatively short extension indicated Griner’s case would soon be tried. The 31-year-old American basketball player has been in police custody for almost three months.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after vaping cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil were allegedly found in her luggage. She faces drug trafficking charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Griner appeared for the brief hearing in court outside Moscow in handcuffs, wearing an orange hoodie and holding his face down. She expressed “no complaints about the conditions of detention,” Boykov said.
The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and US officials worked on his release, with no visible progress.
“Today’s news about Brittney Griner was not unexpected, and the WNBA continues to work with the U.S. government to bring BG home safely and as soon as possible,” the basketball league said. in a press release.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow spoke with Griner on Friday and said she is “doing as well as possible under these circumstances. “.
Russian officials have described Griner’s case as a criminal offense without making any political associations. But Moscow’s war in Ukraine has taken US-Russian relations to the lowest level since the Cold War.
Despite the tension, Russia and the US carried out an unexpected prisoner swap last month – swapping former Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Although the United States does not generally accept such exchanges, it reached the agreement in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long part of his sentence.
The Russians may see Griner as someone who could feature in another such exchange.
Last week, the State Department said it now considers Griner wrongfully detained, a classification change that suggests the US government will be more active in trying to secure her release even as the court case unfolds. unfolds.
The change in status places his case under the responsibility of the department’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, who is responsible for negotiating the release of hostages and Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
A center headed by Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who helped secure the release of several hostages and detainees, including Reed, is also working on the case.
It’s not entirely clear why the US government, which for weeks had been more circumspect in its approach, reclassified Griner as a wrongful detainee. But under federal law, there are a number of factors that go into such a characterization, including whether the detention is based on being an American or whether the detainee was denied due process.
Besides Griner, another American considered wrongfully detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a corporate security official from Michigan. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while visiting a friend’s wedding and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges his family said were bogus.