- WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been unjustly jailed in Russia since mid-February.
- Russian state media reported that Griner’s detention had been extended until at least July 2.
- An expert told Insider the renewal date is “fictional” and their hearing “will never happen.”
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Russia has again extended the detention of US basketball star Brittney Griner.
The WNBA legend’s detention abroad has been officially extended until at least July 2, Russia’s state media outlet TASS reported on Tuesday. This is the second time in the past month that the Russian government has extended its pre-trial detention, and one legal expert believes that July 2 deadline “is as fictional as any other date.”
Griner (left) works his way past Candace Parker. AP Photo/Ralph Freso
“Anyone who is still taking Russia’s word on the Griner case is stupid,” Aron Solomon, Esquire Digital’s chief legal analyst, told Insider. “This ‘hearing’ will never take place.”
“She will either be secretly found guilty and taken to the prison camp or she will go on a prisoner exchange,” he added.
Griner, the 6-foot-9 center for the Phoenix Mercury, was taken into Russian custody on February 17 after customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport claimed they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in their luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison for her charges, and Solomon previously told Insider that the two-time Olympic champion “will not be afforded a fair and just trial.”
Griner appears in handcuffs during a May 13 hearing outside Moscow. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
The Biden administration worked quietly for the first few days after her arrest to negotiate her release and safe return to the United States, which WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Insider is part of an internal strategy to “say less and push more privately.” “. But in early May, the US changed its approach by officially labeling Griner “wrongfully detained” — a move that sends a “strong signal that the US government does not believe there is a legitimate case against her,” according to one Expert who has navigated multiple hostage situations previously told Insider.
Being unlawfully detained also allowed the seven-time All-Star’s friends, family, teammates and supporters to openly advocate for her return to the States. Griner’s wife Cherelle has made several television appearances in recent weeks to raise awareness of the case.
On a recent trip to Washington DC, Griner’s Mercury teammates met with US State Department officials, as well as Congressman Greg Stanton of Arizona and US Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to discuss the star’s case. All parties encouraged the team to “continue to push everyone with influence or power to bring BG home,” according to Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard.
Griner poses with her gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Charlie Neibergall/AP
Ultimately, President Joe Biden and his administration are viewed as the only entity capable of earning Griner’s freedom. Cherelle Griner publicly bemoaned the fact that she didn’t speak to Biden about her wife’s case, adding that she was desperate to do so to “bring my person back.”
After that last overtime, Griner’s agent— Lindsay Kagawa Cola – urged Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to “act with urgency and do whatever is necessary” to free the WNBA star from Russian captivity.
Solomon previously told Insider that the key to Griner’s release likely lies in the US and Russia participating in a “political prisoner swap” similar to the one that freed fellow American inmate Trevor Reed in April. Russian state media have hinted that the superstar could be part of a deal for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer dubbed the “Dealer of Death”.
Griner (right) competes for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season. BSR Agency/Getty Images
Griner was first arrested while traveling to Russia to compete for European powerhouse club UMMC Ekaterinburg, as she has done every winter since 2014. Like about half of her WNBA peers, Griner goes abroad to supplement her relatively modest WNBA salary.
While she makes a league-max $227,900 from the Mercury, Griner made a whopping $1 million per season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, according to The Arizona Republic’s Jeff Metcalfe.
Griner’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment shocked the entire WNBA community. But nowhere has her absence been more pronounced than in Phoenix, where the Texas native has impacted people as much as she has on the court.
Griner high-fives her Phoenix-Mercury teammates. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
“That’s my sister,” said Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith. “I love her. It’s hardest for people like me. Not the hardest — it’s the hardest for her family — but I love her.”
“I think of her every day and can’t wait for her to be back with us.”