MOSCOW ( Associated Press) — WNBA star Brittany Griner’s lawyer said Friday that her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by a month.
Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press that he believed the relatively short extension of the detention indicated the case would soon come up for hearing. He has been in custody for almost three months.
She appeared handcuffed for the brief hearing, her dreadlocks covered in a red hoodie and her face low.
“We haven’t received any complaints from our client about the conditions of custody,” Boykov said.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained at Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil were allegedly found in her luggage, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The Biden administration says Griner, 31, is being unfairly detained. The WNBA and US officials have worked toward his release, without any progress.
The Russians have called Griner’s case a criminal offense without any political affiliations.
But it comes amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine that has brought US-Russian relations to the lowest level since the Cold War.
Despite tensions, Russia and the United States held an unexpected prisoner exchange last month – trading ex-Marine Trevor Reid for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US While the US does not generally accept such exchanges, it made the deal partly because Yaroshenko had already served a long part of his prison sentence.
The Russians may consider Griner to be a potential part of 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 with 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.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that US Ambassador John Sullivan had met with Russian counterparts, but did not say whether Griner was discussed or that his case was talked about further.