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Blinken Speaks With Brittney Griner’s Wife As WNBA Star’s Imprisonment In Russia Continues

SAITAMA, JAPAN – AUGUST 06: Brittney Griner #15 of Team United States looks on against Serbia during the second half of a Women’s Basketball Semifinals game on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on August 06, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to the wife of detained American Brittney Griner on Saturday as the WNBA star’s imprisonment in Russia continues.

According to a senior State Department official, the top US diplomat told Cherelle Griner that her wife’s release is a top priority for the department and has his full attention. Blinken said the State Department is working on the case day and night, and that Cherelle Griner should not to hesitate to reach out if there’s anything she is not getting.

On Friday, a Russian court extended Brittney Griner’s pretrial detention until at least June.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who has for years played for a Russian basketball team during the WNBA off-season, was arrested in February. Russian authorities said she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance — an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A consular officer from the US State Department was able to speak to Brittney Griner on the sidelines of her hearing on Friday, and a State Department official said the State Department is “closely engaged on this case and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team.”

However, on Monday, US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Russia had denied the embassy permission to visit her for the third time in a month.

“This is unacceptable. We call on @mfa_russia to provide timely consular access, in line with Russia’s intl & bilateral obligations,” Sullivan said in a tweet posted by the embassy.

In a briefing last week, spokesperson Ned Price said the State Department is “working very closely” on Griner’s case, as well as that of fellow wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan. Another American who had been wrongfully detained in Russia, Trevor Reed, was released in a prisoner swap in late April.

“Our message across the board for Americans who are detained in Russia is that we expect, consistent with the Vienna Convention, to have regular and consistent access to Americans who are detained, including those Americans who are in pretrial detention,” Price said, adding “that is certainly one message that we are pressing regularly with” the Russian government and “that we expect and insist upon this regular access.”

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