Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia is silently hidden

The arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia on drug charges has prompted her followers to look for a roadmap to resolve what could be a particularly dangerous situation during the Ukrainian war.

It is difficult to find an exact parallel, but a situation almost five years ago, in which three UCLA basketball players were charged with crimes while in China, combining sports, international diplomacy and a desire for secrecy. a way that echoes Griner’s situation as efforts. to take her home she remains silent.

“It’s an extremely sensitive situation,” said Rep. Colin Allred, a Democrat from Texas who said he was working with the State Department to release Griner. He added: “What we’re trying to do now, of course, is be helpful and do nothing to put Brittney in any danger or make her situation worse.”

Griner’s lawyer in Russia contacted the U.S. embassy shortly after her arrest on Feb. 17, Allred said, after Russian Federal Customs Service officials said they had found cartridges of vape containing hashish oil in his luggage at an airport near Moscow. Allred said Russian authorities have denied the State Department’s request for consular officials to meet with Griner.

“It’s already a violation of international standards and the way these things are handled when they happen to Americans overseas,” Allred said.

Griner, 31, a WNBA Phoenix Mercury center, is said to face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of drug charges. Many WNBA players supplement their salaries by playing internationally during the off-season. Griner has been playing for the Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg team since 2014. Her close associates, and those in charge of the WNBA and its players’ union, have said little about Griner’s situation beyond supporting her and hoping she will return to home safely.

The length of his detention so far is not unusual considering the charges, said Tom Firestone, a lawyer for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, who was the resident legal adviser to the U.S. embassy in Moscow while working for the U.S. Department of Justice. Russia’s customs service said in a statement on Saturday that it had opened a criminal case for large-scale transport of drugs.

“Russia has not liberalized its cannabis laws in the same way as the United States,” Firestone said.

Russian prosecutors have two months to conduct a preliminary investigation and build a case, but may receive extensions beyond that, Firestone said. Going out on bail is difficult for people charged with narcotics offenses, and it will be especially so for Griner, who is not a Russian citizen, Firestone said.

“They should definitely have consular access,” Firestone said. “When an American is arrested abroad, the first source of U.S. government assistance is the U.S. embassy consulate.”

It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. , Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who were arrested in China for robbery in November 2017 before a preseason game.

“We were in Hangzhou, the headquarters of Alibaba, which hosted our tournament, and they had a deep appreciation for local laws and customs,” said Larry Scott, then commissioner of the Pac Conference. -12. . He added: “And it was important to receive guidance from them in addition to working with US government officials and others.”

Ball, Hill, and Riley were detained less than a day before being released on bail. They returned to the United States about a week later and publicly apologized for the theft.

Ball, who is the brother of NBA players Lonzo and LaMelo Ball, was the best known of the three UCLA players. “I would like to start by apologizing for stealing from Chinese stores,” LiAngelo Ball told a news conference after returning to the United States. “I’m a young man, but it’s not an excuse to make a really stupid decision.”

Scott also said the remorse shown by the players was crucial in allowing them to return quickly. “They apologized for that and expressed it,” he said. “There is an element of saving face for local authorities to understand foreigners who have been respecting local laws and local culture.”

It is unclear whether Griner had drugs in his luggage, and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining U.S. citizens for misleading reasons. But those close to Griner seem to be following one of the strategies employed by those around Ball, Hill and Riley in 2017: creating as little public noise as possible.

“We felt it would be counterproductive for there to be a lot of statements from us or from UCLA or the families of the student-athletes,” Scott said. “We felt that quiet diplomacy behind the scenes was the best course of action, so we were very careful not to talk too much about the situation in the media or otherwise.”

The incident of UCLA players in China, like Griner’s situation, also had a political background, as it happened during former President Donald J. Trump’s visit to China for trade talks. The merit of having achieved the quick release of the players was later acknowledged, a claim that Ball’s father, LaVar, has publicly denied.

It is unclear whether Russia targeted Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, as a lever against the United States, who has led a widespread effort to impose harsh sanctions on Russia and its elite oligarchs during its invasion. of Ukraine.

Firestone said the charges against Griner would be serious regardless of external circumstances, but the increasingly jealous political climate between Russia and the United States could complicate Griner’s situation in several ways. In addition to potentially interfering with his ability to gain consular access, he could prevent a possible prisoner exchange, which could allow Griner to return to the United States.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow also reduced its available services after the Kremlin ordered the embassy to stop hiring Russians last year, leading to a 75 percent reduction in its staff, according to The Associated Press.

Griner’s arrest, Allred said, is removed from the general conflict between the two countries. But Allred also acknowledged that the Russian authorities were deviating from the standard practice.

“The fact that she has been detained since February 17 and that the State Department has not been granted consular access, even though they have requested it, is very unusual and extremely worrying,” Allred said.

Allred declined to comment when asked where Griner was detained.

“We’re not talking about that right now,” Allred said. “So I just have to say I can’t talk about it right now.”

Allred played football at Baylor University, where Griner dominated women’s basketball and led the Bears to a 2012 NCAA Championship.

“As a fellow Baylor student, I’m concerned about that, but really more so as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as a fellow Texan and American,” Allred said. “I want to make sure we can get her out of there and get home as soon as possible.”

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