A Russian court extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner for two months on Thursday, and rejected an appeal from her legal team, hoping she would be moved to house arrest.
Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since mid-February on drug charges that could carry a penalty of up to 10 years if he is convicted. Griner was “OK” and saw his Russian legal team several times a week while he was in custody, according to someone with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be known to the public because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The Russian Federal Customs Service said on March 5 that its officers detained an American basketball player, 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, Russia’s Tass news agency reported that Griner’s detention had been extended until May 19 during a hearing. Griner’s legal team in Russia hoped he would be transferred to house arrest at the hearing, but it was not surprising that his imprisonment appeal was rejected, according to the man with knowledge of the situation.
The investigation into the allegations is ongoing, and it is common for a Russian court to increase detention time until the date of trial – if one is necessary – set, according to the person. Thursday’s hearing did not discuss the merits of the cases, the man said.
The WNBA season begins May 6. Griner, a two -time Olympic gold medalist and seven -time All Star for Phoenix Mercury, is one of the game’s most recognizable stars.
He was held at a time when relations between the United States and Russia were straining after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month. U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining and sentencing American citizens for dubious reasons.
The continued detention of a high-profile American could be an attempt by Russia to gain leverage on Washington’s political and economic standoff over the invasion, experts said.
Tass reported that Griner was not visited by U.S. consular officials, despite Russia’s willingness to hold a meeting. But last week, Representative Colin Allred, a Democrat in Texas, told The New York Times that Griner was denied consular access to Russian officials.
“It’s already a violation of international ethics and the way these things are handled when it happens to Americans abroad,” Allred said last week.
Griner is one of many WNBA players competing internationally to increase their salary in America, and he played for the Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for many years.
Those close to Griner have said little publicly about the detention since it became widely known on March 5, likely hoping to arrange his return through silent diplomacy.
On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, joined a growing number of politicians and public figures who showed support for Griner when he tweet “Free Brittney” with a link to a BBC article about Griner.