NEW YORK: The WNBA said on Thursday it was working with the US government to get seven-time All-Star Brittney Griner freed from a Russian prison after the TASS news agency said her detention for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil was extended until May 19.
TASS said the Khimkinsky court of the Moscow region ruled to detain Griner, 31, for at least two more months.
The extension of her detention comes at a time of high tension between the United States and Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This continues to be a complex situation that is extremely difficult for Brittney, her family, and all who are hoping for a swift resolution,” the WNBA said in a statement. “Our number one priority remains her safe return.”
“In close collaboration with US government agencies, elected officials, individuals and organizations with expertise in these matters, and Brittney Griner’s representatives and family, we continue to work diligently to get her safely home to the United States.”
Representatives for Griner referred Reuters to a previous statement indicating they would not comment on the specifics of an ongoing legal matter.
Griner won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021. She plays centre for the Phoenix Mercury team, and plays in Russia during the WNBA’s winter off-season.
The new WNBA regular season tips off on May 6.
TASS reported that Griner was sharing a cell with two other women with no previous convictions, adding that her only issue was that the prison beds were too short for her 6’7″ frame.
The Russian Customs Service said earlier this month that a player was detained in February after arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on a flight from New York.
TASS identified the player as Griner, citing a source.
A scan of the player’s luggage revealed cartridges containing “liquid with hashish oil”, and a criminal case has been opened carrying a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison, the customs service said.
It was not clear exactly when Griner was detained but it was announced after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24.
The invasion has dramatically worsened relations between Washington and Moscow, and US President Joe Biden this week called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” designed not to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that the Biden administration had assigned an embassy team to work on Griner’s case.