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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Brittney Griner Detention Extended in Russia

May 18, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

Brittney Griner (Photo courtesy Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

WNBA star and Olympic Gold Medalist Brittney Griner’s pretrial detention in Russia has been extended by a month, Russian state news TASS reports.

The U.S. State Department as well as President Biden have said that Griner is being “wrongfully detained.” But a court in Khimki, near Moscow, has determined that Griner can be held in pretrial detention until at least June 18, which would be four months since her initial arrest.

The State Department told PGN on May 17 that “As we have stated repeatedly, the Russian system wrongfully detained Ms. Griner.”

In addition, the State Department said that “sporadic contact” with Griner is not appropriate, nor sufficient, to determine her well-being or to prepare for her case. The State Department also suggested that the manner in which Griner is being detained and the failure to have more contact with her may in fact fail to meet the minimum requirements under the Vienna Convention and be a violation of the Vienna Convention.

As PGN has previously reported, Griner has been held in Russia since February. Griner is charged with drug smuggling for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. But Griner had been working in Russia since 2014 where she was a star player for a Moscow basketball team and is familiar with the country’s drug laws.

Also, if she had been found with the cartridges as alleged, she would have been charged with simple possession and sent home, not charged as a drug smuggler, which could put her in prison for a decade.

Griner’s arrest wasn’t even initially reported until March.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has previously declined comment on Griner’s months-long detention, issued a statement on Griner’s arrest ahead of the NBA Draft Lottery.

“We’ve been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well. Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia,” Silver said.

Friday’s extension of Griner’s pretrial detention “was not unexpected,” a WNBA spokesperson said, “and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to get BG home safely and as soon as possible.”

PGN asked the State Department for comment on Griner’s physical health and mental well-being as well as what is being done to secure her release. PGN also asked if the government was working to secure her release as it recently did Trevor Reed.

A State Department spokesperson told PGN, “We do not have a comment on this specific development. We take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens when they are subject to legal processes overseas.”

They added, “Due to operational and privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss specific details on any movement on her release as with Trevor Reed. Due to operational and privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss specific details.”

The spokesperson also referred PGN to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s detailed comments in a press briefing on May 17. In response to being asked for an update on Griner and discussion of a possible prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, Price said, “Well, of course I’m not going to get into – I’m not going to entertain that. But let me first speak generally to her case.”

Price said, “You may have seen Ambassador Sullivan issued a statement earlier today [May 17]. He made the point that it is unacceptable that for the third time in a month, Russian authorities have denied an embassy visit to Brittney Griner. A consular official was able to speak with her on the margins of her court proceedings on Friday. That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult.”

Price added that “sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention, to which Russia has subscribed. That is why we continue to urge the Russian Government to allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, in line with those very legal obligations, and to allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia.”

Price confirmed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “had an opportunity in recent days to speak to the wife of Brittney Griner. He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeing the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner…. he was appreciative of the ability to speak to Brittney Griner’s wife.”

After her hearing on May 13 in the Khimki court, Griner was photographed by the Associated Press in handcuffs, head down, wearing an orange hoodie. An official from the U.S. Embassy was able to speak with Griner outside her hearing, Price said.

“The officer was able to confirm that Brittney Griner is doing as well as can be expected under what can only be described as exceedingly difficult circumstances,” Price said.

May 17 was International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and Price said, “LGBTQI communities around the world have the support of the United States. That is not only a rhetorical position; it’s a policy position. In February of 2021, President Biden issued an executive order calling for, once again, the policy of the United States, of our foreign affairs departments and agencies, to be to protect and to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”

Price added, “We do that in a number of ways. We of course do it rhetorically, but we also do it through programmatic funding for supporting the important work of advocacy organizations, for calling out abuses, repression, intimidation, violence against LGBTQI communities around the world.”

Price said, “And of course, whether the cause, whether the community is the community of LGBTQI+ individuals or any other community, including marginalized communities, we always call for universal rights to be protected and to be enshrined in democratic institutions. And of course, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression — two of those important rights.”

“Regardless of Russian legal proceedings, Brittney Griner has been officially designated as Wrongfully Detained by the U.S. Government and has been held now for 85 days,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas said Friday. “As such — and out of respect for the sanctity of sport and to support the confidence of all athletes traveling abroad to compete — we expect the White House to use all options to bring her home immediately and safely.”

The Richardson Center, which privately advocates on behalf of families of hostages and detainees, told CNN it is working on behalf of the Griner family to try to secure her release.

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