A Russian court extended the detention of the WNBA star Brittney Griner by two months on Thursday, and denied an appeal from her legal team, who had hoped to have her transferred to house arrest.
Griner, 31, has been held in Russia since mid-February on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years if she is convicted. Griner is “OK” and has seen her Russian legal team multiple times a week while she has been in custody, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The Russian Federal Customs Service said on March 5 that its officials had detained an American basketball player, who was later identified as Griner. Customs officials accused Griner of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow.
On Thursday, the Russian news agency Tass reported that Griner’s detention had been extended to May 19 during a hearing. Griner’s legal team in Russia had hoped to have her transferred to house arrest at the hearing, but were not surprised that the appeal of her detention was denied, according to the person with knowledge of the situation.
The investigation into the charges is ongoing, and it is typical for a Russian court to add time to the detention until a trial date — if one is necessary — is set, according to the person. Thursday’s hearing did not deal with the merit of the charges, the person said.
The WNBA season begins May 6. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a seven-time All Star for the Phoenix Mercury, is one of the game’s most prominent stars.
She is being held at a time of increasingly tense relations between the United States and Russia after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month. US officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining and sentencing American citizens for dubious reasons.
The continued detention of a high-profile American could even be an effort by Russia to gain leverage in the political and economic standoff with Washington over the invasion, experts say.
Tass reported that Griner had not been visited by US consular officials, despite Russia’s willingness to facilitate a meeting. But last week, Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, told The New York Times that Griner had been denied consular access by Russian officials.
“It’s already a violation of international norms and the way these things are handled when they happen to Americans abroad,” Allred said last week.
Griner is among the many WNBA players who compete internationally to supplement their American salaries, and she has played for the Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for several years.
Those close to Griner have said little publicly about the detention since it became widely known on March 5, likely hoping to arrange for her return through quiet diplomacy.
On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, joined an increasing number of politicians and public figures who have shown support for Griner when she tweeted “Free Brittney” with a link to a BBC article about Griner.