U.S. officials were finally permitted to meet with two-time Olympian Brittney Griner for the first time since she was arrested in Russia on drug smuggling charges.
“I can confirm that consular access was granted today,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday. “A consular officer visited Brittney Griner earlier this morning Eastern Time –– that would have been later in the day Moscow time.”
“The consular officer who visited with Brittney Griner was able to verify that she was doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances,” he continued. “We’ll continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected.”
The WNBA star was arrested on Feb. 17, after Russian custom’s agents allegedly found THC vape cartridges in her carry-on luggage, when she arrived in Moscow on a flight from New York City.
Griner flew into the country amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, to play for Moscow’s Ekaterinburg basketball team in the Euroleague during the WNBA offseason. Russia did not announce her arrest until March 5, over two weeks after she was taken into custody.
On March 17, Griner pleaded not guilty to drug smuggling charges, which carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years. A petition to hold her in custody until May 19, was granted by the court, and could extend up to 18 months before her trial.
“We continue to insist that Russian authorities allow consistent, timely consular access to all US citizen detainees in Russia,” Price said at a press conference. “It is our expectation that this not be a one-off visit.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), who represents Griner’s hometown Houston, has called for the basketball star’s release.
“Let me be very clear, Brittney Griner is a United States citizen. She was a guest in Russia … I will be demanding her release,” Lee said in early March. “The one thing about Russian prisoners, when they are foreign [or] from foreign countries, the treatment is horrific, their lives are in jeopardy.”