Two-time Olympic women’s basketball champion Brittney Griner will be detained on drug smuggling charges in Moscow until May 19.
A Russian state news agency reported that Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, pleaded not guilty in a Moscow court, but will remain incarcerated after a petition to hold her for another two months was granted on Thursday.
Griner, 31, was detained by Russian Customs Service in February, after allegedly flying into the country from New York with cannabis oil in her luggage.
The Phoenix Mercury star plays for Russian team Ekaterinburg in the Euroleague during the WNBA offseason, which begins its 2022 season on May 6. She faces between five and ten years in prison if convicted of drug smuggling.
The WNBA is working with the U.S. government to get Griner extradited home. “This continues to be a complex situation that is extremely difficult for Brittney, her family, and all who are hoping for a swift resolution,” the league said. “Our number one priority remains her safe return.”
Griner could potentially remain in custody for up to 12 months before her trial date, and due to current tensions between Russia and the United States, may be used as a political pawn.
“If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,” said former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine Evelyn Farkas. “It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.”
“We insist the Russian government provide consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention, as Brittney Griner is,” a State Department official said on Thursday night.
“Russia must abide by its legal obligations and allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia,” the spokesperson continued.
“We take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens when they are subject to legal processes overseas.”