The United States stepped up its push Friday for consular access to Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who is detained in Russia on allegations of drug smuggling, as a member of a Russian state-backed prison monitoring group said Griner was “faring well behind bars”. The State Department issued a statement Friday demanding access to Griner, who plays professionally in Russia during the WNBA offseason.
The member of the prisoner monitoring group, Ekaterina Kalugina, told The Associated Press on Friday that she visited Griner on Monday at the pretrial detention facility outside of Moscow where she’s being held and spoke to Griner with the help of a cellmate who speaks Russian and English and served as an interpreter. “Her physical condition is fine, she’s holding up fine, and I’d even say that she is fairly calm and isn’t anxious,” Kalugina told the AP.
Griner was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport, reportedly in mid-February, after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Russian state news agency Tass reported Thursday that a court had extended Griner’s pretrial detention to May 19th.
— The Chanteezy For Real ♉️ (@iamchanteezy) March 18, 2022
Griner’s legal ordeal comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the U.S. over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Her lawyers have been visiting Griner regularly and have brought her care packages that include food and personal items, but she hadn’t met with a U.S. consul yet, Kalugina told the AP.
WNBA center Brittney Griner appeared in a Moscow court today, where she reportedly pleaded not guilty (to drug charges). The court extended her detention for another two months, according to @mash_breaking pic.twitter.com/Lm0TPzNYH0
— Mike Eckel (@Mike_Eckel) March 17, 2022
But Griner is not the only American detained in Russia, the AP reports. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 on charges alleging that he assaulted police officers in Moscow. And Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are false. U.S. officials have publicly called for Moscow to release them.