The US is working on the release of the basketball star arrested by Russia

FILE PHOTO: Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a game against Australia
FILE PHOTO: Brittney Griner of the United States gestures during a match against Australia at Saitama Super Arena in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Women’s Basketball quarterfinals match in Saitama, Japan August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

March 6, 2022

By Gabriella Borter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Diplomats were working to secure the release of seven-time WNBA All-Star player Brittney Griner after Russia said it arrested the player last month for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said further Sunday.

The Russian Customs Service, without naming Griner, said Saturday that it detained an athlete in February after the player arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on a flight from New York.

Russian news agency TASS identified the player as a Griner, citing a source. Griner’s WNBA team, Phoenix Mercury, said, “We are aware of and closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia.”

A scan of the player’s luggage revealed cartridges containing “liquid containing hash oil” and a criminal case has been opened with a possible prison sentence of five to 10 years, Customs Service said.

It wasn’t clear when Griner, who is playing in Russia during the WNBA winter break, was arrested in February. The player is still in custody and an investigation is ongoing, Russian Customs Service said.

Griner, who won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021, “has always conducted herself with the utmost professionalism throughout her long tenure with USA Basketball,” USA Basketball said on Twitter.

At a joint news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Sunday, Blinken said the Biden administration had assigned an embassy team to work on Griner’s case.

“I can only say so much at this point given the privacy considerations,” Blinken said of Griner. “Whenever an American is arrested anywhere in the world, we are of course ready to provide any help possible, including in Russia.”

He added: “We have an embassy team working on the cases of other Americans who are being held in Russia. We do everything to ensure that their rights are safeguarded and respected.”

Following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and sweeping sanctions by Western nations aimed at isolating Moscow, the United States on Saturday warned against travel to Russia, saying its embassy there had limited ability to help citizens .

LGBTQ rights advocates have expressed particular concern about Griner given that she is an openly gay woman being incarcerated in a country that has been shown to restrict LGBTQ rights.

“Our thoughts are with Brittney Griner, her loved ones and her teammates during this horrific ordeal,” a spokesman for Athlete Ally, an organization that campaigns for LGBTQ rights in sport, said Sunday. “Brittney has long been a strong voice for LGBTQ+ equality. It is critical that we use our collective voice now to demand her safe and speedy return to her family.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted on Instagram Saturday that she appreciates the prayers and support she has received following Brittney’s incarceration. “This news comes at one of the weakest moments of my life,” she wrote. “Please respect our privacy as we continue to work to get my wife home safely.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker) The US is working on the release of the basketball star arrested by Russia

Bobby Allyn

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