(Fwrd Axis) – Brittney Griner, the seven-time All-Star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, is still being held hostage in Russia.
Her detention happened as U.S. and WNBA officials urged Americans to leave Russia before Putin launched his murder mission on Ukraine.
Griner was arrested on drug charges, on February 17, at the Sheremetyevo airport after vape cartridges containing hashish oil were allegedly found in her luggage.
The 31-year-old professional basketball player was in Russia playing on the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, something she has been doing for several seasons.
Brittney Griner recently had her pre-trial detention in Moscow extended by one month, her original detention was set to end on May 19.
The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained, a change in classification that indicates the U.S. government will be more active in trying to secure her release even while the legal case plays out. – The Associated Press
Griner is confirmed to be doing well, sharing a cell with two other inmates jailed for drug offenses. Following her hearing, Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the media that Ms. Griner didn’t convey “any complaints about the detention conditions.”
Cannabis is illegal in Russia and Brittney is facing drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Several state-owned Russian news sources are reporting that Russia is interested in exchanging Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap for notorious convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death.”
Bout was arrested in 2008, during a sting operation in Thailand, and extradited to the United States where he was sentenced to 25 years in 2012 for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
“This is Russia saying, ‘wouldn’t this be a great idea?’ This isn’t the U.S. saying they’re interested,” said William Pomeranz, a professor of Russian law and the acting director of the Kennan Institute
The Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which leads and coordinates the Government’s diplomatic engagements on overseas hostage-related matters, is currently handling Brittney Griner’s case.
Players across the league are determined to make sure Brittney Griner’s name stays on people’s minds and the two-time Olympic gold medalist is released immediately.
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) has joined the trending Change.org petition in demanding that lawmakers prioritize Brittney Griner’s safe return to America.
“Anyone who meets Brittney, the first thing you walk away with is how kind she is. She’s just very low key and very humble. She’s given strong support for the LGBTQ+ community, is an advocate for social justice… no matter who you talk to, if they know Brittney, you get that kind of story about how iconic she is and what a role model she is, both on and off the court.” – WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert
Russia’s court system isn’t a level playing field, and the American media has an obligation to highlight what’s happening to Griner. We also can’t ignore the fact that if Brittney Griner were a white woman, her story would be all over the news and she would be considered a political prisoner.