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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Brittney Griner Denied Consular Access in Russia

Former Hostage Says More Should be done to

Publicize Her Case

March 16, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

It has been over a month since Brittney Griner — one of the best women basketball players in the world, an Olympic gold medalist, seven-time WNBA All Star, WNBA champion and Euroleague star — was arrested and detained in Russia.

As PGN previously reported, the White House, U.S. State Department and Griner’s Congressperson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), have all weighed in on Griner’s detention. Griner’s wife, Cherelle T. Griner, has posted on Instagram calling for her spouse’s release and safe return. The WNBA has issued statements about their concern for Griner’s physical and mental well-being as has Griner’s agent.

But Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter and a former detainee himself, says Griner’s detention demands more publicity and the charges against her should be presumed to be false. He’s calling for more action on her behalf.

According to a statement from the Russian Customs Service, “As a U.S. citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage.”

Officials have accused Griner of smuggling “significant amounts of a narcotic substance,” a crime that could put the player in prison for a decade.

But Jonathan Franks, a crisis management consultant for families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas, told CNN March 14, “I think that it’s a huge mistake to report these allegations as if they’re true or even are likely to be true.”

Franks said, “This has a lot of hallmarks of a very wrongful and arbitrary detention.”

He added, “I found the video from the Russian customs service odd. They’re parading her before cameras. The mugshot was completely unnecessary and asinine.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called Moscow’s release of the Griner mugshots “vile and vicious.”

Franks said, “They’re making her out to sound like a drug kingpin. I think that it is unlikely that Ms. Griner will get a fair trial, because nobody gets a fair trial in Russia. It’s a rigged game.”

Griner has worked in the off-season in Russia since the 2014-2015 season for UMMC Ekaterinburg. It’s unlikely after so many years working in Russia that Griner would be unfamiliar with drug laws in the country.

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was detained in Tehran for 544 days before he was finally released. He was adamant as he told CNN that the charges against Griner are likely bogus

Rezaian said, “I think that every time reporters repeat that narrative, we’re doing some of the dirty work of the hostage takers for them. My attitude is Brittney Griner is innocent of any crimes until the world sees otherwise.”

Added to concerns voiced by Rezaian and Franks is what Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX), himself a former NFL linebacker, revealed to CNN anchor Don Lemon: that Griner is being held in Russia “without official government access to her.” Allred said that was “unusual and extremely concerning.”

Allred asserts that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has had no contact with Griner since she was taken into custody at least a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Allred said that when Americans are detained, there is always access to the embassy.

“And so that’s extremely unusual and extremely concerning,”

Allred said to Lemon. “The fact that we’ve not had official government contact with her to help her through this process. She is in touch with her Russian lawyer who is helping us understand her situation and working through the legal process.”

Allred told Lemon that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looms over the entire issue” of securing Griner’s safe return to the U.S.

Allred said, “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.”

According to Allred, Griner’s Russian lawyer is in contact with Griner’s wife and agent. Allred said he had also been in contact with Griner’s agent.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told The Hill that she has concerns about Griner’s family and her privacy. But, Lee said, “Under the circumstances, I’m obviously concerned and believe the actions of the [Russian] Federal Customs officers was unnecessary. And it was, in my perspective, targeted and purposeful.”

Lee said, “I don’t underestimate anything that Russia would do. With that in mind, I’ve got to keep fighting on all aspects of the front to ensure her safety.”

Lee also said that she was focused on a “legal remedy” in Griner’s case and said, “I certainly rely upon that process, but my role is to ensure that the federal government is squarely aware, engaged and concerned about her safety and security, as there are others who have been harmed by being made pawns even before the war.”

Rezaian said that remaining silent about the detention of Americans in foreign countries on questionable charges is always “a mistake” and “allows the possible hostage taker to take control of the narrative.”

He said, “Unfortunately, we see people telling themselves: ‘This is all just a big mistake that’s going to blow over in a few days.’ Suppressing her detention isn’t doing her any favors, these things don’t magically resolve themselves.”

In his comments to CNN, Rezaian also criticized the WNBA for their reticence on Griner’s detention. He said, “The WNBA, a part of the NBA, one of the biggest and most powerful sports leagues in the whole world, has a real responsibility to this individual. There should be a robust response.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing that the State Department “has been working very diligently” to secure Griner’s release.

“We’ve been in close touch with those around her, providing all forms of appropriate support and will continue to do that,” Price said.

Price, who is openly gay, did not mention the specific dangers Griner faces in Putin’s virulently anti-gay Russia. But a report by CNN Moscow correspondent Lucy Kafanov on March 8 cited how Russian TV had ridiculed Griner and “mockingly referenced her sexual orientation.” Video showed Griner’s tattoo on her abdomen of interlocking women’s symbols — a lesbian image.

PGN contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for comment on Griner’s detention, but has received no comment.

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