Leading American officials and lawmakers are ramping up their calls for Russia to release U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was reportedly arrested and jailed last month after authorities at the Sheremetyevo airport — about 15 miles northwest of Moscow — found cannabis vape cartridges in her suitcase.
What officials say
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Monday he believes Russia is violating international law by not allowing American officials to communicate with Griner.
“The Russians are required to give us that access. They have not—it has been denied,” he said during a Washington D.C. roundtable with journalists. “We are working very hard to hear directly from her how she’s doing, and to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that her rights are being respected and upheld in the Russian system.”
Local media in Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas reported that the 31-year-old basketball star will be held for at least two more months while Russian authorities build a criminal case against her.
Why this is important
Griner is accused of breaking Russian law because marijuana is illegal is the eastern European country, where officials have staunchly opposed international cannabis reform. Among other measures taken to fight international legalization, Russia strongly condemned Canada for legalizing the plant back in 2018.
Griner’s case is especially complicated because of the ongoing war between Russia and neighboring Ukraine, which has left thousands of civilians and soldiers dead. Several U.S. officials and elected officials believe Russia is holding Griner as a political bargaining chip at a time when tensions between the two countries are reaching decades-long highs.
“Brittney Griner is a United States citizen,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, said at a briefing earlier this month. “She was a guest in Russia with the WNBA—and I will be demanding her release.”
Asked about Griner case, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not comment on the specifics of her detention, citing mandates in the U.S. Privacy Act. Psaki offered only that “the objective is always to bring American citizens home who are detained in foreign countries.”
Congressmen Burgess Owens, a Republican from Utah, and Byron Donalds, a Democrat from Florida, also penned a joint letter to President Joe Biden urging the White House to resolve Griner’s case.