American basketball star Brittney Griner will be held in Russia for two more weeks. The court of the Russian city of Khimki on Tuesday decided to extend her detention, which normally expired on June 18, until July 2.
Griner, 31, was arrested on February 17 at an airport near the capital Moscow for being in possession of “vape cartridges that smelled of cannabis oil,” it said in a statement from Russian customs authorities. For that, she risks a prison sentence of ten years.
Her arrest was not announced until March 5, fifteen days after her arrest. In the meantime, Russia had invaded neighboring Ukraine, triggering an international crisis and US sanctions on Moscow. In early May, the US State Department ruled that Griner was being “unlawfully” detained. Washington also fears that the basketball star is being used as a means of pressure in the conflict with Russia and has already warned that Americans in Russia risk being arbitrarily detained.
In the middle of May, the Russian news website Gazeta.ru reported – citing a source within the Russian prison system – that a prisoner swap between Griner and notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is “highly likely”. Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.
At the end of April, US ex-Marine Trevor Reed was released in a prisoner swap with Russian pilot Konstantin Iarochenko, who had been detained in the US since 2010.
Brittney Griner is a two-time Olympic champion and a star in her own country. In Russia she was a teammate of Belgian Cat Emma Meesseman at Ekaterinburg. As a sign of support, the North American women’s basketball league WNBA is putting its jersey number and initials on all courts this season. Domestically, Griner plays for Phoenix Mercury.