US basketball star Brittney Griner faces another month of detention in Russia where state officials say she was caught ‘red-handed trying to smuggle hash oil,’ despite the White House calling her imprisonment illegal.
Griner, 31, was arrested at Moscow airport on February 18 for allegedly bringing vape cartridges containing hash oil – which is illegal in Russia – into the country.
Russian officials say her arrest is based on ‘objective facts and evidence’. ‘She was caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil. In Russia, this is a crime,’ a statement, obtained by CNN, read.
Griner, who was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg on a reported $1million contract, could face up to 10 years in a labor camp for drug smuggling.
The star, considered one of the best female basketball players in the world, was seen leaving a Moscow court on Friday with her hood up and hair covering her face as she was told her detention would extend another month.
Her lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told The Associated Press he believed the relatively short extension of the detention indicated the case would come to trial soon.
US basketball star Brittney Griner, 31, (pictured) was seen with her hood up and hair covering her face as she left a Moscow court on Friday after being told her Russian detention was extended by a month after officials say she was caught ‘red-handed trying to smuggle hash oil’
The WNBA star (pictured at the Tokyo Olympics) faces up to 10 years in a labor camp for drug smuggling. Her lawyer Alexander Boikov said he believed the relatively short extension of the detention indicated the case would come to trial soon
The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained while the WNBA and US officials have been working towards her release, without visible progress.
In early May, her case was handed off to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), which negotiates the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
The allegations against Griner have not been proven in court, and several public officials, including US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, have accused the Russian government of bringing false charges against Griner and other imprisoned Americans.
The Olympian pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court last month.
Griner was arrested and detained at a Moscow airport on February 18 (pictured) for reportedly bringing vape cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in Russia
Russian officials have called out the US, saying state representatives are trying to ‘influence justice’ by sticking their nose in it.
‘The charges are serious, based on objective facts and evidence that is available. Attempts by the State Department to cast doubt on the validity of the detention of B. Griner are explained solely by the desire to influence justice by politicizing a generally understandable situation,’ the statement reportedly read.
‘The final point, in this case, should be made by the court.’
After repeated requests, a State Department official in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner last month and the basketball player, who was the first draft pick for the WNBA, was in ‘good condition.’
‘We were able to check on her condition, we will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly,’ a representative said at the time.
‘Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.’
Griner (pictured in February), who has been playing in the Russian league, is being wrongfully detained according to the US government
The Olympian pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court last month
Her only issue was that the prison beds in the jail were reportedly too short for her 6-foot-9 frame.
‘The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person,’ activist Ekaterina Kalugina, a member of human rights watchdog Public Monitoring Commission – a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons – told the outlet last week after allegedly visiting the facility where Griner is being held.
Russian officials have also extended her detention until May 19 while they investigate the charges.
Law expert Peter Maggs said the Russian government has been known to plant drugs on people ‘if the regime wanted to get them in trouble.’
US government officials and Griner’s own agency have hesitated to say too much about her situation, perhaps because doing so could give the Russian government more incentive to keep her imprisoned.
Griner won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021 and is a seven-time All-Star who also plays center for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA but was drawn to the Russian league for the higher salaries.