WNBA All Star Brittney Griner’s incarceration in a Russian prison was extended by a month after a court hearing on Friday, multiple reports said. Griner was expected to appear in court on May 19, although he was not formally charged with any crime. The early appearance, which led to a brief extension of her now three-month sentence, could be a sign the case will soon go to trial, Griner’s attorney Alexander Boikov told The Associated Press. It’s unclear exactly what caused Griner’s status to change.
Griner was in a Russian prison after her reportedly trying to bring vape cartridges with hash oil in mid-February. Her case was postponed earlier this month as the United States government now considers her wrongly imprisoned.
This postponement means the US is not waiting for Griner’s case to go through the Russian legal system and is negotiating her return to America with no clear progress so far. The fact that the United States is changing Griner’s status as a wrongfully imprisoned does not mean that Russia will change its stance on her arrest, which is reflected in her continued prison time. It means America considers any Russian lawsuit irrelevant.
Griner’s detention is particularly difficult because of Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine. Griner can be seen as a powerful asset of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and she could be held hostage in response to American sanctions against the country for its unnecessary invasion.
The longtime Phoenix Mercury star flew to Moscow to join her Euro League team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, in February. Griner has spent her international career in Russia since 2014, earning over $1 million per season, more than four times her annual WNBA salary. She was arrested at the airport when a search of her bags allegedly discovered the vape cartridge.
Griner’s American teammates for UMMC Ekaterinburg, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, successfully left Russia months ago. Griner’s Support System and the US Department of State had kept a low profile in Griner’s case until last week, so as not to turn them into a more valuable asset for Putin
WNBA players and support from other parts of the US government have drawn attention to Griner’s case since she was granted wrongful prisoner status. The WNBA’s season officially began last week when the league placed floor stickers with Griner’s initials and number 42 on the sideline of the home court in each arena.