MOSCOW ( Associated Press) — WNBA star Brittany Griner’s pre-trial custody in Russia was extended by a month on Friday, her lawyer said.
Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press that he thinks the relatively little detail indicated that Griner’s case would soon go to trial. The 31-year-old American basketball player has been in custody for nearly three months.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She faces drug trafficking charges that carry a maximum prison term of 10 years.
Griner appeared at a court outside Moscow for a brief hearing, wearing handcuffs, wearing an orange hoodie and holding her face down. He did not express “any complaint about the conditions of the detention”, Boykov said.
The Biden administration says Griner is being unfairly detained. The WNBA and US officials have worked toward his release, without any progress.
“Today’s news on Brittany Griner was not unexpected and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to get BG home safely and as quickly as possible,” the Basketball League said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow spoke with Griner on Friday and told him she was “acting as expected under these circumstances.”
Russian authorities have declared Griner’s case a criminal offense without any political affiliations. But Moscow’s war in Ukraine has brought US-Russia relations to the lowest level since the Cold War.
Despite tensions, Russia and the United States had an unexpected prisoner exchange last month – trading former Marine Trevor Reid for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States. was cutting
While the US does not generally accept such exchanges, it made the deal partly because Yaroshenko had already served a long part of his sentence.
Russians may consider Griner to be someone who can engage in another such exchange.
After the State Department said last week that it now wrongfully detains Griner, the change in classification suggests the US government will be more proactive in trying to secure his release even as the legal case continues.
The change of status places his case within the scope of the Department’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which is responsible for negotiating the release of hostages and wrongfully detained Americans.
Also now working on the case is a center led by former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who helped secure the release of several hostages and detainees, including Reid.
It is not entirely clear why the US government, which for weeks had been more circumspect in its approach, reclassified Griner as a false captive. But under federal law, there are a number of factors that go into such characterization, including whether the detention is based on being an American or if the detainee has been denied due process.
In addition to Griner, another American improperly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a Michigan-based corporate security executive. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges related to espionage, which his family had said was bogus.