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A Russian court has once again extended the detention of WNBA champion and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner.
First detained in February, the Mercury Phoenix center will remain in jail at least until July 2, according to Russian state media outlet TASS.
Authorities at Sheremetyevo International Airport first took the 31 year old into custody on Feb. 17, after allegedly finding a vape pen containing cannabis extracts in her luggage. She faces a 10-year prison sentence on charges of “large-scale transportation of drugs” if convicted.
Her detainment has now gone beyond 117 days after a representative from the Khimki Court of the Moscow Region requested an extension, TASS reports.
Efforts to secure her release continue
In recent months, an explosion of efforts to secure her release have provided more visibility to her imprisonment.The U.S. government ruled Griner as “wrongfully detained” on May 3, allowing for more resources devoted to her safe return.
The WNBA, for their part, have decorated floor decals with Griner’s jersey number to elevate the issue, and the NBA Commissioner has met with federal officials, hostage negotiators, and members of the business community to assess all options.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, urged President Biden to do more to secure her release in a televised interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts on May 25.
“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” she said. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
While she’s been able to periodically trade letters with Griner, she hasn’t spoken to her since Griner’s detainment in February.
On May 19, U.S. consular officer was able to meet with Brittney Griner and said he “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last month.
Is Russia using Brittney Griner as leverage?
Griner won an NCAA title at Baylor in 2012; a WNBA title with Phoenix, her current team, in 2014; and gold medals with the U.S. women’s team at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
Like many other WNBA players, Griner plays in foreign countries during the offseason to offset the lower pay she and her peers earn compared to players in the NBA. The continued extensions of her detainment raise concerns that Russia plans to use her as leverage against the U.S. while it continues to wage a deadly war against Ukraine.
On Monday, The Phoenix Mercury said the team and coaching staff had met with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) and State Department officials.
“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,” Mercury star and longtime teammate Diana Taurasi said in a statement following the meetings. “We want BG to come home as soon as possible, it’s number one on our list.”