US politician demands release of women’s basketball star detained in Moscow
A congresswoman is campaigning for the release of the two-time Olympic champion who was held on drug charges
Russia is wrongly holding two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner following the Team USA star’s detainment in Moscow, a member of the US Congress in the basketball player’s native Houston has insisted.
Center Griner, of Russian women’s team UMMC Ekaterinburg, was held at Sheremetyevo Airport in February after customs officials reportedly found banned substances in her luggage during baggage checks.
The 6ft 9in athlete is said to be at the center of a criminal case because vaping devices and cannabis oil were allegedly found among her belongings.
“She was here with the WNBA [and] has now been detained for almost a month in Russia,” said Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, giving a speech recorded by FOX 26 Houston.
“We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items but let me be very clear: Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia with the WNBA and I will be demanding her release.
“I have just spoken to the State Department to try to get them to try to focus on her circumstances.”
Jackson Lee then namechecked Russian President Vladimir Putin and appeared to say that Russia had “no right” to detain Griner because of the military operation in Ukraine.
“If there are challenges and concerns about her actions, it should be dealt with diplomatically and she should be released,” she urged, calling it “dangerous” for Griner to be in a facility in Moscow.
“She has a storied history of Olympic gold medals – a seven-time WNBA All-Star center. It is no place for her.
“I hope that we will not provide any additional adversity for her. I would call upon Russia, at this time, to really stop harassing US citizens – more importantly, to release those who are there.”
Russian Telegram channels shared footage of the inspection which led to the 31-year-old being detained.
A statement from the Russian Federal Customs Service said: “In February 2022, when a US citizen who arrived on a flight from New York was passing through the ‘green’ corridor at Sheremetyevo Airport, a service dog of the canine department of Sheremetyevo Customs indicated the possible presence of drugs in the escorted baggage.”
A criminal case was subsequently opened against Griner under article 229.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which covers the smuggling of narcotics. Griner could face between five and 10 years in prison, reports have claimed.
Griner has played for UMMC during the off-season since 2015. “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” Griner’s agent told the Guardian in a statement.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
The WNBA has also offered support to the three-time domestic and four-time European champion with the Russian team.