Russian court extends basketball star Brittney Griner’s detention until July 2 a day after her Phoenix Mercury teammates meet State Department officials and say they want her home

  • Brittney Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport
  • She was accused of having vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative
  • A Russian court has now extended her pre-trial detention for a second time
  • US authorities say she has been ‘wrongfully detained’ like other Americans
  • They fear the Kremlin is targeting US citizens for prisoner swap deals 

A Russian court on Tuesday extended the detention of basketball star Brittney Griner for a second time, meaning she will be held without trial until at least July 2.

The U.S. State Department says the 31-year-old has been ‘wrongfully detained’ since Russian officials accused her of drug smuggling at an airport in February.

‘The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the detention period for US citizen Griner for 18 days, until July 2,’ a court representative said, according to the Russian news agency Tass. 

The State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Russia amid concerns the Kremlin may target them in order to swap them for Russians held in U.S. prisons.

In April, Trevor Reed was released after more than two years in Russian detention part of a prisoner swap involving a Russian citizen convicted in the U.S. of drug trafficking.

However, former Marine Paul Whelan is still serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in another case that the State Department says amounts to wrongful detention. 

Brittney Griner has been held in Russia since February when Russian authorities said a search at a Moscow airport revealed vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative

Griner is seen here leaving a Moscow courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, on May 13. On Tuesday, Russian news agencies reported that the court extended her detention until July

Details of Griner’s detention emerged a day after State Department officials met with members of Brittney Griner’s WNBA team about the Phoenix Mercury star’s monthslong detention in Russia and the Biden administration’s efforts to secure her release.

The State Department confirmed the meeting, which involved officials from its specialized office that advocates for hostages and wrongfully detained Americans.

‘There is a lot involved in getting her back home and safe, they´re working relentlessly,’ Mercury star Diana Taurasi said after the meeting in a release from the Mercury. 

‘We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives. We want BG to come home as soon as possible, it’s number one on our list.

The administration has previously said that it is working to bring Griner and another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, home from Russia.

‘Knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,’ Taurasi said.

Griner was detained on Feb. 17 at an airport in Russia after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative. In May, the State Department reclassified Griner as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of her case to the State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, or SPEHA.

Griner is the most prominent American locked up by a foreign country. But the WNBA star’s case is tangled up with that of another prisoner few Americans have ever heard of. Paul Whelan has been held in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage charges he and the U.S. government say are false

‘We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained. It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home,’ Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. 

‘She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.’

After the meeting with the State Department, the Mercury players and staff met with Congressman Greg Stanton of Arizona and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Griner´s hometown of Houston.

‘For the team, coaches and executives at the Mercury, every day without Brittney is a lifetime,’ Stanton said. ‘I was glad for the opportunity to share the work we´re doing in Congress to secure Brittney´s release.’

Griner´s teammates as well as players across the league have been pushing President Biden on social media to help get her home.

WNBA players also have been able to send emails and letters to Griner through an account her agent set up.

The emails are printed out and delivered sporadically in bunches to Griner by her lawyer after they are vetted by Russian officials. Once the lawyers get back to their office, they scan any responses from Griner and pass them back to the U.S. to send along to the players.

‘Paul is rotting in a Russian Gulag’: Detained American Paul Whelan’s sister demands a more ‘coordinated effort’ from the Biden administration to free ex-Marine 

 The sister of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia for four years, called on Tuesday for the Biden administration to do more to bring him home.

He is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of spying following what American officials said was an unfair trial.

His sister Elizabeth said U.S. authorities had not managed to explain how they had freed Trevor Reed, another American wrongfully detained, in  a prisoner swap but had yet to secure her brother’s release.

‘But I think what we are really concerned about is there seems to be a lack of a coordinated effort to bring Paul home and also other wrongful detainees,’ she said.

‘Also, trades are not the only tools that the US government could use. 

‘And I’m really concerned that everybody’s backed themselves into corners about a trade or not a trade. 

‘Meanwhile, Paul is rotting in a Russian Gulag waiting for someone to sort this out.’

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020

Elizabeth Whelan said she wanted a ‘more coordinated’ and ‘creative’ approach from the Biden administration in trying to bring her brother home from Russia where he is in prison

Whelan was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges.

He has repeatedly protested his innocence but was convicted and sentenced in June 2020. 

In contrast, Reed was freed in April after more than two years in detention. It came as part of a prisoner swap involving a Russian citizen convicted in the U.S. of drug trafficking.

In the case of Whelan, speculation has focused on the possibility of exchanging him for Viktor Bout – a Russian arms dealer nicknamed ‘The Merchant of Death.’

He was convicted by a New York court of conspiring to kill Americans, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist group and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011.

Elizabeth Whelan said she did not know exactly what was on the table, but urged the Biden administration to be creative.

Former US Marine Trevor Reed was exchanged for convicted Russian drug dealer Konstantin Yaroshenko during a prisoner swap that took place at a Turkish airport on Wednesday 

‘And I would I guess we’re what we’re really looking for is we’re looking for the White House to change the rules of the game to you know, create a faster response, a more coordinated effort to get Paul out and most importantly you know, think about punishing these bad actors,’ she said.

‘You know, what’s happened to Paul is unconscionable. 

‘And we really appreciate what Trevor Reed is is trying to do to help him and what we want to make sure is that the US government is not restricting their creativity in any way in dealing with this problem.’

With as many as 800 Russians in US prisons, she added, there were plenty of options for a deal. 

‘And I think what’s really important is this idea that we need the executive agencies to get ahead of the game, not just be reacting to Russian demands,’ she said.

‘So our family has a lot of mixed emotions. We want Paul back any way we possibly can. 

‘But we also want to make sure that whatever happens doesn’t make it even more difficult to get other detainees home.’

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