The U.S. ramps up efforts to free a top American basketball player detained in Russia.
What’s going on and why it matters.
“A criminal case was initiated against a US citizen [Griner] under … the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation — smuggling of narcotic drugs in a significant amount.”
Russia’s Federal Customs Service announcing Griner’s arrest on March 5, more than 2 weeks after she was detained at the airport. Authorities reported finding vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her bag; her charge could lead to a sentence of 5-10 years in prison. She is currently being held near Moscow, and has been visited by one U.S. Embassy official.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner.”
Quote from a State Dept. official from Tuesday, May 3. The dept. added that her case will now be handled by Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, who will lead an interagency team that will work to secure Griner’s release. Following the announcement, Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas tweeted: “… our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home.”
“Until now her case was assumed to be a normal arrest of an American abroad, and those cases are simply handled by Consular Affairs bureaus in different countries in which the priority is making sure that the American prisoner is OK, that they are healthy, that they are getting access to what rights they’re entitled to in prison.”
Asst. professor of military and strategic studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Dani Gilbert, on why the latest State Dept. efforts mark a significant change in the case.
Bigger Picture: Griner is one of two Americans being “wrongfully detained” in Russia. Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was arrested in December 2018 while on a visit for a friend’s wedding. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage charges (sharing private info to a foreign nation/entity), which he has consistently denied.
Just last week, the U.S. and Russia carried out a prisoner exchange — swapping Trevor Reed, an American imprisoned for nearly 3 years due to assaulting Russian authorities while intoxicated, for a convicted Russian drug trafficker who had been arrested in 2010.
U.S. Government Says Brittney Griner Was ‘Wrongfully Detained’ (The New York Times)
Click HERE to learn more about former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed’s release
U.S. State Department Declares That Brittney Griner Has Been ‘Wrongfully Detained’ in Russia (The Wall Street Journal)
State Dept.: Brittney Griner considered wrongfully detained (Associated Press)
Russian media: Detention of WNBA’s Griner extended to May 19 (Associated Press)
by Jenna Lee,