17 March 2022

Russian court extends detention of US basketball star

17 March 2022

The detention of US basketball star Brittney Griner has been extended until May 19, Russia state media reported.

The development could see the two-time Olympic champion being held for at least three months before her case is resolved.

Griner was detained at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The case of the 31-year-old, one of the most recognisable players in women’s basketball, comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Brittney Griner has played basketball for a Russian club (Eric Gay/AP) (AP)

“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the US citizen Griner until May 19,” the court said, according to the state news agency Tass.

The US State Department has been “doing everything we can to support Brittney Griner, to support her family, and to work with them to do everything we can to see that she is treated appropriately and to seek her release,” spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing.

He cited privacy considerations in not giving out more details.

Ekaterina Kalugina of the regional Public Monitoring Commission, a state-backed panel in Russia that monitors prisoners’ conditions, told Tass that Griner was sharing a cell with two other female detainees accused of narcotics offenses.

Griner’s cellmates spoke English and were helping her to communicate with staff at the pre-trial detention facility and to obtain books, Ms Kalugina said.

Brittney Griner has two Olympic gold medals (Charlie Neibergall/AP) (AP)

“The only objective problem has turned out to be the basketball player’s height,” Tass quoted Ms Kalugina as saying of the 6f 9in star. “The beds in the cell are clearly intended for a person of lesser height.”

Griner has won two Olympic gold medals with the US, a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury and a national championship at Baylor.

She was one of a dozen WNBA players who played in Russia or Ukraine this past season. All except Griner have left since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Griner has played in Russia for the last seven years in the winter, earning over 1 million dollars per season — more than quadruple her WNBA salary.

She last played for her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg on January 29 before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments. She was arrested in Moscow on returning to Russia.

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