Earlier this month the US government declared a change in status regarding WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested and held by Russian authorities starting in February, prior to the start of the war in Ukraine. The State Dept. had for the first time deemed her "wrongfully detained".
"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government," the prior statement said. "The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained US citizen Brittney Griner." It explained: "With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release."
And now a Russian court has extended her detention for another 30 days, according to sources cited by ESPN on Friday. She had reportedly requested to be placed under house arrest, which has been denied.
Russian authorities had charged her with trying to smuggle narcotics after flying from New York to Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. The accusations appear to step from customs agents finding vape cartridges containing hashish oil, but Western officials have of late voiced their belief that the now lengthy detention and legal saga is politically motivated.
International reports have noted that based on strict Russian drug laws, Griner could be facing up to 10 years in prison. Her Friday court appearance was the first time she'd been photographed since the start of her ordeal:
The 6-foot-9 center for the Phoenix Mercury was seen in handcuffs wearing an orange hoodie with her hood over her head. Griner’s pre-trial extension was extended for one month. She was set to have her first hearing over the allegations, which if found guilty can carry a penalty of 10 years in prison.
Staring in March the US Embassy in Moscow complained that Griner has been locked from proper consular access while being held abroad. A statement said the State Dept. officials "continues to press, thus far unsuccessfully still, for consular access … for all detainees and that includes Ms. Griner." The statement at the time added: "We’re deeply concerned about our inability to access any of these US citizens in recent months."
Last week the U.S. State Department reclassified Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained,” which means they will not wait for her case to go through the Russian legal system and will instead negotiate for her return home.— Arlene Christie (@HighwayOfTearz) May 13, 2022
The other citizens referenced included former US Marines Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. But it late April, Trevor Reed was released and allowed to return back to the United States as part of a rare prisoner swap brokered between Moscow and Washington.
In return, Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko had been freed from US custody. The former Russian pilot had been serving a 20-year sentence in the US on drug charges.