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14 Jun, 2022 10:48

US officials discuss basketball star’s Russian drug charge detention

The women's basketball star has been detained in Russia since February
US officials discuss basketball star’s Russian drug charge detention

Officials from the US State Department have held talks with women's basketball team the Phoenix Mercury regarding Brittney Griner's detention in Russia as the United States continues to attempt to secure her release. 

Griner, 31, has been held in Russia since February 17 after allegedly attempting to gain entry to the country while in the possession of banned vape cartridges containing a derivative of cannabis.

However, last month the US State Department Department claimed that Griner has been 'wrongfully detained' by Russia and passed her case the Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs - a body which offers support to citizens of the United States, including political hostages. 

“There is a lot involved in getting her back home and safe; they're working relentlessly, Griner's teammate Diana Taurasi said of the meeting with US officials.

“We're here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that's going on in our lives. We want BG to come home as soon as possible; it's number one on our list.

“Knowing the State Department at the highest level, from US President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they're working on it, Taurasi said.

Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard also added her voice to the chorus seeking Griner's return to her home country.

“We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained, she claimed of the former number one pick in the WNBA draft.

“It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home. She's our teammate, she's an American and we want her back home.” 

The input from US authorities comes amid a prolonged social media campaign by some of the biggest stars in men's and women's basketball to highlight Griner's plight, with many of them appealing directly to President Biden.

Several of Griner's teammates have been in contact with her since she was detained, with her lawyer passing on emails sent to her - though they must first be cleared by Russian officials. 

Griner was originally detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February by local authorities after a search of the 31-year-old's bag threw up vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which are illegal in Russia.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, the star had been arriving in Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the off-season in the US – something she had done in previous years.

In May, a Moscow court extended Griner's detention and she could face a sentence of between five and 10 years' imprisonment, should she be found guilty.

“We did not receive any complaints about the detention conditions from our client,” Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boykov, told the AP at her last hearing.