U.S. State Department Officials still have not had access to WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner since her February 17 arrest in Moscow, Russia on drug charges, ESPN reports. A State Department official told ESPN that the agency insists 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 source close to Griner told ESPN last week that “We know she’s OK.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s ‘good,’ but she’s OK,” the source told ESPN.
Griner was arrested after Russian Customs officials allegedly found cannabis vape cartridges when she entered the country. She appeared in court on Wednesday for a hearing during which prosecutors were granted an extension until May 19 for their pre-trial investigation, the report says.
According to Tom Firestone, a former U.S. Department of Justice resident legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, under Russian law, defendants may be held for 12 months before trial, and up to 18 months in extraordinary cases.
“We are closely engaged on this case and in frequent contact with Brittney Griner’s legal team … We have repeatedly asked for consular access to these detainees and have consistently been denied access. Russia must abide by its legal obligations and allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia. 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.” – a State Department official to ESPN
On Thursday, Russian media reported that one of Griner’s attorneys motioned to have her transferred from jail to house arrest under the care of a local acquaintance – her representatives do not expect that request to be granted, the report says. Griner’s case is further complicated by the fact that two other Americans, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, have been in Russian custody for more than two years.
In the U.S., Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury and has played for Russia for the last seven years during the winter offseason, earning $1 million per season, which is more than four times her WNBA salary. Griner, 31, has also won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S., a WNBA championship with the Mercury, and a national championship at Baylor.
The Russian Federal Customs Service issued a statement on March 5 indicating that it had opened a criminal investigation into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which in Russia can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but the statement did not name Griner.
The U.S. State Department has issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and the agency urged all U.S. citizens to depart the country immediately, saying there is “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.
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