Brittney Griner will remain in detention in Russia
Brittney Griner is in detention in Russia. © Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images
US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner will remain in custody in Russia after a court rejected her appeal following her arrest at a Moscow airport on drug charges last month.
A Moscow district court confirmed the decision on Thursday after Griner – who is a two-time Olympic champion – and her legal team had sought her release.
“The decision of the Khimki court [in Moscow] is left unchanged, the appeals are not satisfied,” the judge was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.
The news agency said that one day previously Griner’s detention had been extended for a further two months while her case is investigated.
Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after arriving from New York in February, with customs checks finding several vaping devices which contained a banned hashish oil.
The basketball star, who plays for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason in the US, was detained under the section of the Russian criminal code which covers the smuggling of narcotics.
The date of Griner’s detention is said to have been February 18, according to RIA, citing prosecutors, with the sportswoman potentially facing between five and 10 years in jail.
© Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
During Thursday’s hearing, Griner’s lawyers reportedly argued that her arrest was unlawful and that the measure of restraint was “unnecessarily severe,” although the charge itself was not said to have been contested. They also argued that she had not been granted initial access to a lawyer or consul.
Griner was reported as giving evidence via videolink and translation from a detention center. Among the complaints were that the beds in detention were too small for the 6ft 9in (206cm) star, with that stated as an additional reason why she should be transferred to house arrest.
The prosecutor had argued that the arrest was “lawful and justified,” and that there are no mitigating circumstances against the preventative measures taken.
Griner’s team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, declined to comment and instead referred the media to legal representatives. The star has played for the team during the WNBA break since 2015.
The big center is one of women’s basketball’s biggest names in her homeland, and her case has drawn attention from US politicians and diplomats.
Daniel Fried, who served as ambassador to Poland during the Bill Clinton administration and worked under George W. Bush and Barack Obama before retiring when Donald Trump was elected, claimed that the situation with Griner was like “hostage taking.”
“I can’t say definitively she didn’t [do the crime], but the first thought I had when I read about [the arrest] is, ‘this sounds like [the Russians] taking an American hostage,’” Fried claimed.
Elsewhere, Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said that she would be “demanding [Griner’s] release.”
“She has a storied history of Olympic gold medals – a seven-time WNBA All-Star center. It is no place for her,” said the politician.
Griner is a double Olympic gold medalist with the US team at the 2016 and 2020 Games, and was WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014.
A seven-time WNBA All-Star, she has also won three Russian Premier League titles with UMMC Ekaterinburg, as well as four EuroLeague crowns.