U.S. consular officer visited detained basketball player Griner in Russia

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Basketball - Women - Gold medal match - United States v Japan - Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan - August 8, 2021. Brittney Griner of the United States in action with Himawari Akaho of Japan REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. consular officer visited detained Women's National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner in Russia on Thursday, U.S. State Department said on Friday, while urging Moscow for more regular consular access.

Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic champion, was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February as diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Authorities alleged that Griner, the 6-foot-nine-inch center for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury was in possession of cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges. The Russian customs service said at the time that the alleged offence could carry a prison term of five to 10 years for Griner, who for years has played for a Russian professional team during the WNBA off-season.

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"I can confirm that a Consular Officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday on Thursday, May 19th. The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances," Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a telephonic briefing.

"But again, our message is a clear and simple one. We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all US citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient," he added.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month determined that she was wrongfully detained, and has assigned diplomats to work for her release.

The "wrongfully detained" designation means the responsibility for the case will now be transferred from the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively raising the issue's political profile.

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Reporting by Chris Gallagher and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio

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