The arrest of a two-time US basketball Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has caused supporters to worry about her health and fear that she might turn out to be a political pawn.
Russian authorities said Griner had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling a significant amount narcotics – an offense punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years.
It remains unclear exactly when Griner was arrested last month, or where she is currently being held.
But escalating tensions between the US and Russia over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised fears that getting Griner out of Russia will be “very difficult”.
‘SHE WAS THERE FOR QUIT ONCE’
Adaora Elonu, a former WBNA player who also played in Russia, said she was “extremely worried” about Griner.
“At the moment, I’m very, very concerned – also know that she’s been there for quite a while,” Elonu told CNN Tuesday.
She describes the feeling of being cut off from much of the world while living in Russia. Elonu said: “In Russia, I was like in a bubble.
“I don’t feel safe. I feel as if there’s not a lot going on in that country. I know a lot is happening outside the country. But compared to when I was in Russia, we don’t recognize it. I get a lot of news about what’s going on. Besides my family, friends and agent, they tell me what’s going on. But it’s hard to balance what’s really happening and what’s going on. what I feel,” she said.
“But once things started to escalate, my agent was definitely urging me to get out. And I’m glad I took his advice and got out.”
‘There are no words to know this pain’
Griner’s whereabouts were not made public. CNN has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment but has not yet received a response.
A member of the Russian Federal Customs Service described the allegation against Griner to Russia 24, the country’s main state news channel.
“A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen under section 2 of 229 YK RF (Russian law) for smuggling a large amount of drugs,” said Irina Begisheva of the Customs Department’s Anti-Smuggling Policy Department Federation told Russia 24.
In an Instagram post, Griner’s wife described the agony of the wait.
“People say ‘be busy.’ However, there is no mission in the world that can keep any of us from worrying about you, Cherelle Griner posted Monday.
“There are no words to describe this pain. I’m in pain, we’re in pain.”
Over the weekend, she thanked supporters and asked for privacy “as we continue to work to get my wife home safely.”
But a member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it will be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.
“Our diplomatic relationship with Russia is currently non-existent,” Democratic Representative John Garamendi of California told CNN Monday.
“Perhaps in the various negotiations that could take place, she could be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
He also noted that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” – although it’s unclear if those rules and laws might affect Griner’s case. Russia has passed legislation relating to LGBTQ and banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors”.
Griner’s high school basketball coach, Debbie Jackson, said she was worried Griner’s case would be used for political purposes.
“My biggest fear is … she’s going to be a political pawn,” Jackson told CNN.
However, the Biden administration is working to find a way to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Black Congressional Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, said she raised the issue of Griner’s detention and “the need for her immediate release and that she received help. of the United States to request and facilitate release”. during that meeting with the President, according to a statement Tuesday.
A STORED CAREER
Griner spent his entire WNBA career with the Phoenix Mercury and won the tournament’s title in 2014. The WNBA has confirmed that all of the other league players have left Russia and Ukraine.
Like many other WNBA players, Griner plays overseas during the off-season, where salaries can be much higher than those paid by professional female basketball players in the US.
She won the EuroLeague Women’s Championship last year with Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she has played since 2015 during her holidays.
Fans around the world have been calling for Griner’s release, with more than 34,000 people signing the petition “Make sure Brittney Griner returns to the US safely and quickly” on Change.org as of Tuesday.