A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of US basketball star Brittney Griner – held since February on accusations of drug smuggling – by another month, Russian state news agency TASS reported Friday.
Griner, who the US government has said is being wrongfully detained, now can be held in pretrial detention at least until June 18, a court in Khimki outside Moscow ruled Friday, TASS reported, citing the court’s press service.
Leaving a hearing Friday in the Khimki court, she was handcuffed, wearing an orange hooded pullover with her head down, an Associated Press photo shows.
An official from the US Embassy was able to talk with Griner on the sidelines of her hearing Friday morning, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
“The officer was able to confirm that Brittney Griner is doing as well as can be expected under what can only be described as exceedingly difficult circumstances,” Price said on a briefing call Friday.
Supporters including Griner’s family and the WNBA have vigorously advocated for her release, with some expressing concerns Russia would use Griner as a political pawn amid tensions between that nation and the US over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and star for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Griner, 31, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport. Russian authorities said Griner had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance – an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. She had been playing for a Russian team in the WNBA offseason.
A Russian court had announced in March it had extended Griner’s pretrial detention until mid-May. A trial date had not been set, a source close to the situation told CNN at the time.
Friday’s extension of Griner’s pretrial detention “was not unexpected,” a WNBA spokesperson said, “and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to get BG home safely and as soon as possible.”
The US State Department has classified Griner as wrongfully detained in Russia, and her case is being handled by the office of the US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, a State Department official confirmed to CNN last week. The office leads the government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
That office played a major role in securing the release of US citizen and Marine veteran Trevor Reed from Russia last month. Reed was released in a prisoner swap for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko.
The Richardson Center, which privately advocates on behalf of families of hostages and detainees, also said it is working on behalf of the Griner family to try to secure her release.
Griner was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft and is one of the league’s all-time best players.
The league, which started its 26th regular season last week without Griner, is honoring the seven-time all-star with her initials and jersey number (42) along the sidelines of all 12 home courts. Griner will also be paid her full WNBA salary, the league said.
Last season, Griner finished second in Most Valuable Player Award voting. The 6-foot-9 center led the Mercury to the WNBA Finals, where Phoenix lost to the Chicago Sky.