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Russia extends detention for WNBA star Brittney Griner as Texans in Congress call for her release

Posted at 4:43 PM, Mar 17, 2022

A Moscow court has reportedly extended WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner’s arrest till May 19, which could extend her detention for 63 more days.

Griner, a Baylor University graduate and Houston native, has been a professional basketball star for nine years. She currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury as well as UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia and was arrested in February near Moscow at Sheremetyevo International Airport. According to Russian authorities, vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found within her luggage; she was then arrested on drug smuggling allegations.

But the arrest has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the charges against her or whether the two-time Olympic gold medalist is being used as a political pawn as Russia faces intense economic pressure from the United States and Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February.

The extension comes after the court’s request for an investigation. Griner’s drug charge can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The Russian state news agency TASS on Thursday reported the court’s decision to extend Griner’s detention period, according to CNN, which reported that Griner has yet to be visited by a U.S. consul to support her in the case.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is working with the committee to assure Griner’s return. Allred told CNN earlier this month that Griner’s consular access had been blocked, a move that he said was an “unusual and extremely concerning” circumstance. Griner has been given a Russian lawyer who has been in touch with the basketball player’s family.

“We want to make sure that her rights are respected and that we are able to get access to her and that she can get through the process and get home as quickly as possible,” Allred said.

Former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Texas congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio have used their platforms to advocate for Griner’s release. Clinton shared a BBC article on her Twitter with the caption “Free Brittney” Wednesday morning, while Castro tweeted that he is closely monitoring reports concerning Griner.

Castro also referenced Russia’s detention and imprisonment of another U.S. citizen, Trevor Reed, starting in 2019. Reed, a former U.S. Marine from Texas, is serving nine years in prison on claims of endangering Russian police during a night of heavy drinking.

As a freshman at Baylor, Griner secured the title as one of the greatest shot blockers in women’s basketball history after performing 223 blocked shots. Afterward, she went on to be the No. 1 overall pick at the 2013 WNBA Draft.

Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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