Russia extends ‘unlawful’ detention of US basketballer Brittney Griner: ‘Inhumane and unacceptable’

US basketball star Brittney Griner wears an orange jersey while looking up

A Russian court has extended US basketball star Brittney Griner’s pre-trial detention to at least 2 July, according to state media. 

The WNBA player was detained at a Moscow airport in February on purported drug charges and has been held in jail for nearly four months. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

The Khimki Court of the Moscow region extended Griner’s detention for an additional 18 days on Tuesday (14 June) at the request of investigators, according to reports by Russian state news agency TASS.

A Russian court previously extended her time in custody until 19 May and then again to mid-June. It’s typical for Russian courts to repeatedly extend detentions until an individual’s trial, the New York Times reported. 

The US State Department only became aware of this third extension to Griner’s detention through media reports, department spokesperson Ned Price said. 

Price also repeated calls for the safe release of the two-time Olympic gold medalist and declared that Griner “should not be detained for a single day longer”. 

“This case is problematic from top to bottom,” Price said. “It is precisely why we have characterised Brittney Griner as an unlawful detainee.”

Brittney Griner wears a purple Phoenix Mercury jersey with the #42 on it. She is standing by during free throws during a WNBA basketball game.

The US state department says Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner “should not be detained for a single day longer”. (Getty/Leon Bennett)

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said on Twitter that it was clear the Phoenix Mercury star was being used as a “political pawn” amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Her detention is inhumane and unacceptable,” Colas wrote. “She has not had a single phone call in her 117 days of wrongful detention.”

Colas also called on president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris to “act with urgency and do whatever it takes to bring Brittney home immediately”. 

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on 17 February when Russian authorities claimed she had vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. The 31-year-old had played in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season for several years. 

Reports of Griner’s arrest weren’t made public knowledge until weeks later in early March, and the Russian Federal Customs Services later released a statement confirming that the basketball star had been detained.

Russian authorities also released a video showing airport security workers searching the luggage of a passenger, who was later identified as Brittney Griner.

In May, the state department determined that the WNBA All-Star had been “wrongfully detained” and her case is being handled by the office of the US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

A young fan holds a sign reading 'Free Brittney Griner' in orange and purple lettering with small drawings of basketball balls as they stand in the middle of a crowded stadium during a game

The WNBA, Phoenix Mercury, basketball players and fans have called for Brittney Griner’s release from Russia. (Getty/Chris Coduto)

Colas previously confirmed that Griner can receive “sporadic” written communications from loved ones and people from the sporting world. 

But she told CNN that the out basketball icon hasn’t “heard her wife or family’s voices” since her arrest. Colas described the lack of “real time, regular contact with loved ones” as “inhumane”. 

Griner’s wife Cherelle told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts that she has communicated with the basketball superstar “sporadically” through letters, but they haven’t actually talked for over 100 days. 

“[Brittney] wrote me one letter and was like, ‘Babe, I know you wanna go down right now but like, don’t just yet’,” she said.

“I won’t go down until she’s back … Every single day matters for me to be sound, for me to be alert, for me to be attentive, to make sure that she comes back.”

She added that the support her wife has received from the WNBA has brought Griner “comfort” and kept her “hopeful” amid her detention. 

“It lets her know she’s not forgotten,” Cherelle added. 

The WNBA has continued to pay tribute to Griner by installing floor decals with her initials and jersey number, 42, on every home court. Several players within the league and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have demanded Griner’s safe return, wearing black shirts with “We are BG” emblazoned on the front.