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Russian court extends 'wrongfully detained' WNBA star's sentence by one month

WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was seen leaving the Khimki court on Friday in handcuffs and wearing an orange hooded pullover with her head down

WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner
La estrella de la WNBA Brittney Griner | Wikimedia Commons

May 13, 2022 8:34pm

Updated: May 13, 2022 11:36pm

A Russian court has extended the pre-trial “wrongful” detention of U.S. WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner by one month, her lawyer revealed to Reuters on Friday.

According to an AP report, the basketball star was seen leaving the Khimki court on Friday in handcuffs and wearing an orange hooded pullover with her head down.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price later reported that a U.S. Embassy consular officer attended Friday's hearing and was able to speak with Griner after her hearing.

"The officer was able to confirm that Brittney Griner is doing as well as can be expected under what can only be described as exceedingly difficult circumstances," Price said.

The Women’s National Basketball League also released a statement following the Russian court’s ruling saying, “today’s news on Brittney Griner was not unexpected, and the WNBA continues to work with the U.S. government to get BG home safely and as soon as possible.”

Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after Russian customs officials discovered an electronic cigarette allegedly containing cannabis oil among her possessions.

The U.S. State Department has since declared that she has been “wrongfully detained” and urged Moscow to release her, ESPN reported.

The 31-year-old center traveled to Russia to play with Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg where she earns over $1 million per season – although she still plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury during the regular season. WNBA players are known to play abroad when they are out of season as they receive much higher salaries than in the United States.

At the time of her arrest, Russian customs officials said that the alleged offence could carry a 5-10-year prison sentence.

U.S. officials, for their part, have warned that the Kremlin is using Griner in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange or to gain an advantage as the West continues to impose crippling sanctions against Moscow ahead of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the New York Times reported.

Washington and Moscow have kept diplomatic channels open since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, however, and the two sides were able to negotiate a prisoner swap last month, effectively bringing home U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed who had been serving a nine-year sentence on assault charges.

Reed was ultimately exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been serving a 20-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of drug trafficking. Russian authorities continue to hold Paul Whelan – another U.S. Marine veteran who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2020.