A U.S. diplomatic official was finally able to meet this week with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for three months.
A consular officer visited Griner Thursday, and that was the second visit this week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing Friday, ESPN reports. The officer “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances,” Price said.
Price had said Tuesday that Russian authorities had denied three requests for U.S. diplomats to meet with Griner and that the denial was “unacceptable.” A consular official had spoken with Griner last week “on the margins of her court proceedings,” Price said then, adding that “sporadic contact is not satisfactory.” A representative of the U.S. Embassy had also seen her in March.
Griner, center for the Phoenix Mercury, was taken into custody in February at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow after a search of her luggage revealed she had vape cartridges containing hashish oil. Possession of hashish oil is illegal in Russia. If she is convicted of possession, she could be sentenced to up to 10 years in a Russian prison. She has not gone to trial let, and her pretrial detention goes into mid-June.
She was in Russia to play for one of that nation’s basketball teams, UMMC Ekaterinburg. Many WNBA players participate on overseas teams during the U.S. off-season.
President Joe Biden’s administration has spoken out against Russia’s action in Griner’s case, saying she has been “wrongfully detained.” The U.S. government will continue to fight for access to her, Price said in the Friday briefing.
“Our message is a clear and simple one — we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees,” he said. “One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in touch with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, Price noted earlier this week. Cherelle Griner has asked the public to respect the privacy of the couple and their loved ones as the case continues.
Also this week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he is working with his WNBA counterpart, Cathy Engelbert, and U.S. officials to get Brittney Griner released. “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,” Silver told ESPN in a televised interview Tuesday. “Our number 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia.”