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WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia extended until May 19, Russian state news reports

WNBA star Brittney Griner's detention in Russia for the alleged possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil has been extended until May 19. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters/Reuters)
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A Russian court heading the investigation into Brittney Griner’s drug charge extended the American basketball star’s detention until May 19, according to a report by Russian state news agency TASS. With no indication whether she could be released then, the development means Griner, 31, will have spent more than three months in Russian custody.

Griner was arrested Feb. 17 after Russian officials said they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport outside of Moscow, an offense that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Griner, a seven-time WNBA all-star, was returning at the time to Russia, where she plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg during her Phoenix Mercury offseasons.

The Mercury, which lost to the Chicago Sky in last year’s WNBA Finals, is scheduled to open the 2022 WNBA season May 6.

A person close to the situation said Thursday’s court hearing involved an appeal from Griner’s Russian legal team challenging her detention and seeking to have her transferred to house arrest while the investigation is ongoing, and that the negative outcome was not unexpected. Once the investigation is complete, a trial date will be set; if it isn’t complete by May 19, that will be the date of the next hearing for the court to contemplate another extension.

The person close to the situation said Griner is okay and that she has met with her legal team multiple times per week during the course of her month-long detention.

The TASS report cited the Khimki Court of the Moscow region for the update on Griner’s status. Ekaterina Kalugina, described as a human rights activist from Russia’s Public Monitoring Commission, told TASS that Griner is sharing a cell with two other women also being charged with first-time drug-related offenses.

The low-profile, high-powered race to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody

Kalugina was also quoted by TASS as saying officials from the U.S. Embassy had not visited Griner despite the willingness of Russian officials to “create all conditions” for such a visit. This contradicts U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.), who told The Washington Post last week that U.S. Embassy officials have been denied access to Griner.

“The fact we’ve requested consular access and it has not been granted is very unusual and extremely concerning,” Allred said at the time, accusing Russia of “violating international norms.”

A spokesperson for Allred did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the apparent discrepancy.

But a State Department spokesperson Thursday confirmed U.S. Embassy officials have not been granted access to Griner, saying, “We have repeatedly asked for consular access” to Griner, only to be “consistently” denied. “Russia must abide by its legal obligations and allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia,” the spokesperson said.

U.S. officials, however, are “closely engaged” in Griner’s case and are in frequent contact with her Russian lawyers, the spokesman added.

The TASS report quoted Kalugina as saying Griner’s cellmates speak English and have helped her order books, specifically one by Dostoevsky and a biography of Rolling Stones members. Kalugina added Griner has had no complaints about her treatment but that her 6-foot-9 frame was too large for her bed.

Griner “calmly accepted the situation in which she found herself and has no complaints about the conditions of detention,” TASS wrote, citing Kalugina.

Griner’s family and agents and officials from the WNBA and the Mercury have been mostly mum regarding her arrest and detainment, in hopes of keeping it from becoming a celebrity-political cause, which experts on Russian-American relations say could make it harder to obtain her release — particularly at a time of increased tensions between the two nations over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The WNBA did release a statement on the matter Thursday. “In close collaboration with U.S. government agencies, elected officials, individuals and organizations with expertise in these matters, and Brittney Griner’s representatives and family, we continue to work diligently to get her safely home to the United States,” the league said. “This continues to be a complex situation that is extremely difficult for Brittney, her family, and all who are hoping for a swift resolution. Our number one priority remains her safe return.”

On Wednesday, former secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted support for Griner, sharing a news story with the caption “Free Brittney” on Twitter.

Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.