US official ‘extremely concerned’ for detained basketballer Brittney Griner as new details emerge

Lawmaker offers update on Russian arrest of basketballer Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner has been in custody in Russia for over three weeks, it has emerged, with officials admitting ‘extreme concern’.

It was reported last weekend that the WNBA star had been detained after customs officials allegedly detected cannabis oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.

Details of Brittney Griner’s arrest have been scant, with fears growing that she could be used as a pawn by the Russian government as the US and other nations impose strict sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. 

Now, Texas representative Colin Allred has offered an update on her case to ESPN, clarifying that Griner was arrested on 17 February.

“I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services,” Allred said.

“The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now, but she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”

The Russian Federal Customs Services has released a statement claiming that officials detained two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner in February for possession of vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil.

The customs service added that a criminal case had been opened, and that if convicted, Brittney Griner could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison.

Russian state TV broadcast a photograph of the athlete in custody, although it is still unknown where the star is being held.

Worry continues to grow for the athlete, with a former Pentagon official telling Yahoo Sports she feared Putin could use the LGBT+ icon as a “high profile hostage” during the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,” Evelyn Farkas, who served as the US deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia and Ukraine from 2012 to 2015.

“It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.”

Collin Allred agreed that the Russian war on Ukraine means that it may be more difficult to bring the athlete home.

Allred said: “I’m sure her lawyer in Russia is working through the process, but every day for anyone being held, particularly overseas, is a lifetime.

“I recognise that for her friends and family, this must be an incredibly difficult time. And for her, I’m sure the uncertainty about what’s happening is probably just terrible… hopefully, whatever happens, we can get this moving quickly and get her out.”

Griner’s wife Cherelle has thanked people who have “reached out” about the athlete’s detention in Russia, stating that “there are no words to express this pain”.

Posting a photo of Brittney Griner, she said: “People say ‘stay busy’, yet there’s not a task in the world that could keep any of us from wondering if you are safe.

“My hearts, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by without hearing from you. I miss your voice. I miss your presence.

“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family.”