It’s been nearly a month since Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been detained by the Russian government.
When the WNBA star was arrested at an airport outside of Moscow on approximately Feb. 17, the country had not yet begun its invasion of Ukraine. News of her arrest wasn’t publicly announced until three weeks into her detainment. Despite international pressure to release Griner, CNN reports that U.S. Representative Collin Allred said she is still being held “without official government access to her” and that this diplomatic decision is “unusual and extremely concerning.”
The military operation Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a week into Brittney’s detention already made the situation unusual and extremely concerning enough. Griner was charged for allegedly traveling with a vape cartridge containing cannabis oil in her luggage, which could carry a sentence of 10 – 20 years in prison.
“For Brittney’s sake, we don’t want her to become a part of this kind of political battle that’s going on, and we want to make sure that her rights are respected and that we are able to get access to her, and that she can get through the process and get home as quickly as possible,” Allred said.
While the Russian government refuses to communicate about the case, Allred says the U.S. government remains hard at work.
“They should just know that our government, the State Department, folks like myself in Congress on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we’re gonna do everything we can to get her home, to get any other American who’s been detained unjustly home,” Allred said.
Like the seven-time WNBA All-Star, Allred is a Texan and former Baylor University college athlete. He told ESPN he has multiple personal connections that make Griner’s arrest really hit home.
“Of course for me, there is a Baylor connection,” Allred said. “And also being on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and having recently visited Ukraine and being intimately involved with our response to the Russian aggression there. But also the fact that Brittney is a high-profile LGBTQ advocate and icon in many ways.”
Although U.S. Embassy has been denied access to the 31-year-old, Griner does have a Russian attorney who has been able to contact her agent and family back home. This one lifeline to the outside world is the only reason we know that she is still okay in custody, but that’s not saying much for a well-known Black American lesbian in a Russian prison.
“I’m sure her lawyer in Russia is working through the process,” Allred continued. But every day for anyone being held, particularly being held overseas, is a lifetime. I recognize that for her friends and family, this must be incredibly difficult time. And for her, I’m sure the uncertainty about what’s happening is probably just terrible. And so, hopefully, whatever happens, we can get this moving quickly and get her out.”
For those who wondered why those outside the U.S. government have been so quiet about Brittney’s case, experts like international criminal defense attorney Tom Firestone said the less political pressure there is, the easier it might be to handle the incident as a simple criminal case.
“Sometimes cases like this are better off handled in a low-key approach through the criminal justice system,” Firestone said. “I think the concern is, if it becomes too high-profile, if it becomes political, then the Russian government may dig into their position. It may make it difficult for her to get a good resolution of the case, and she could become a pawn in a bigger political battle.”
Even if Griner gets the standard criminal case treatment, that could mean months of delays in the Russian judicial system while her loved ones and fans continue to play the waiting game.