WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner will be held in a Russian prison on charges of possessing cannabis vape cartridges until May, according to information provided by the state media outlet on Thursday. Griner was taken into custody last month at an airport near Moscow after customs officials reportedly found the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. The Olympic gold medalist has been detained in Russia since her arrest.
On Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region had ruled to detain Griner for at least two more months as the case is investigated, according to a report from the Daily Mail.
“The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of U.S. citizen Griner’s detention until May 19,” the court ruled.
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center and has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team twice.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for Phoenix. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
WNBA Star Arrested Last Month
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. Griner was not identified by name and the date of the arrest was not specified. The customs service also released a video that appears to depict Griner making her way through an airport security checkpoint.
TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February. After news of the arrest broke, the WNBA and the players’ union expressed support for the star player.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league said in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
TASS reported on Thursday that Griner is being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights watchdog group Public Monitoring Commission, a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
Kalugina further reported that Griner has accepted her detention and was being held in a cell with two other women with no prior convictions who are also being held on drug-related charges. Griner’s only issue, she said, was that the prison’s beds are too small for the 6’9” basketball star.
“The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person,” Kalugina told TASS.
The human rights worker also said that U.S. authorities have not yet visited Griner in Russia, which invaded its neighbor Ukraine on February 24, plunging the region into a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis.
“In addition, for an unknown reason, the U.S. consul does not come to [see Griner], although the administration of the pre-trial detention center is ready to create all conditions for a visit,” TASS quoted Kalugina as saying.
Griner’s time in custody is being made easier by the women being held with her, the report continued.
“[Griner’s cellmates] also had no previous convictions and are charged with drug-related [offenses],” said Kalugina. “They speak English and help Griner communicate with the prison administration.”
“They helped her order books: she reads F. M. Dostoevsky and [a] biography of the members of the Rolling Stones,” she continued.
Uproar Over Griner’s Arrest
Griner’s arrest has led to an outcry from politicians and celebrities around the globe. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the basketball star’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into the circumstances of Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian was detained in Tehran by the Iranian government in 2014 and held in a notorious prison for 544 days, finally being released in 2016. He said that he sees similarities in his case and Griner’s.
“It’s the most audacious hostage taking by a state imaginable,” Rezaian told CNN. “I know from my own case that the supposed charges against me were not based in anything like reality, and they were used to perpetuate a narrative about why I was being held.”