WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia was extended for the third time after a Russian court ruled that she would remain in custody through at least July 2, Russian state news media outlet TASS confirmed on Tuesday.
Griner, 31, was detained at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow on Feb. 17 when customs officers accused her of smuggling vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, News Onyx reported. A representative from the Khimki Court of the Moscow Region confirmed that Griner’s detention was extended for another 18 days at “the request of the investigation,” per ABC News.
The 6-foot-9 center has faced several setbacks for her release, prompting activists, state politicians, and federal government officials to step in and work on her return. The court announced in March that Griner’s detention would be extended until mid-May. Weeks later, the media outlet confirmed that Griner’s detention was extended for a second time until June 18.
Last month, U.S. government officials said Griner was “wrongfully detained” in Russia.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad [are] among the highest priorities of the U.S government. The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the statement read. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
While supporters have advocated for Griner’s release, some have expressed concerns about her being used for political gain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position for some time on this has been very clear: Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday.
Price said the department learned of Griner’s extension through Russian media outlets, stating that no American diplomats were able to gain access to the two-time Olympic medalist. In addition, the State Department is working to gain regular access to Griner after having consular access last month, Price said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Griner’s agent called on the Biden administration to initiate action for her client’s release, per CNN.
“Her detention is inhumane and unacceptable. She has not had a single phone call in her 117 days of wrongful detention,” said Lindsay Kagawa Colas, adding that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should “act with urgency and do whatever it takes to bring Brittney home immediately.”
State Department officials met with members of the Phoenix Mercury on Monday regarding Griner’s release, ESPN reported. The meeting involved officials from its office who advocates for hostages and wrongfully detained Americans.
“There is a lot involved in getting her back home and safe; they’re working relentlessly,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said in a news release following the meeting. “We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives. We want BG to come home as soon as possible; it’s number one on our list.”
She added, “knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S. President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it.”