Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia Covered in Silence

The imprisonment of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia over drug charges has left her supporters looking for a road map to a resolution of what could be a more dangerous situation in during the war in Ukraine.

The exact same is hard to come by, but a situation almost five years ago, where three UCLA basketball players were charged with crimes while in China, a mix of games, international diplomacy and a desire for in secret in the way that echoes Griner’s situation as efforts. to bring his house to go on quietly.

“It’s a very sensitive situation,” said Representative Colin Allred, a Democrat in 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 not do anything that would put Brittney in any kind of danger or aggravate her condition.”

Griner’s lawyer in Russia contacted the U.S. Embassy shortly after he was arrested Feb. 17, Allred said, after Russian Federal Customs Service officials said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in his luggage at the airport. near Moscow. Allred said Russian authorities rejected the State Department’s request that consular officials meet with Griner.

“It’s already a violation of international ethics and the way these things are handled when it happens to Americans abroad,” Allred said.

Griner, 31, a Phoenix Mercury center in the WNBA, is said to face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on drug charges. Many WNBA players increase their salaries by playing internationally during the off-season. Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014. Those close to him, and officials from the WNBA and its players ’union, have said nothing about Griner’s condition further that they support him and hope that he can go home safely.

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

“Russia doesn’t liberalize cannabis laws in the same way we do in the United States,” Firestone said.

Russian prosecutors have two months to conduct a preliminary investigation and establish a case, but will receive extensions beyond that, Firestone said. Releasing bail is difficult for people accused of narcotics offenses, and especially for Griner because he is not a Russian citizen, Firestone said.

“They really need to get consular access,” Firestone said. “If an American is arrested abroad the first source of assistance from the U.S. government is the U.S. Embassy consulate.”

What role, if any, UMMC Ekaterinburg will play in Griner’s case is unknown, but local relationships could be crucial in situations like this, such as three UCLA basketball players, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who were detained in China for store theft in November 2017 before the preseason game.

“We are in Hangzhou, the headquarters of Alibaba, which is our host of the tournament, and they have a deep and clear appreciation of local laws, customs,” said Larry Scott, former commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference. He added, “And it’s important to get guidance from them in addition to working with U.S. government officials and others.”

Ball, Hill and Riley were in custody less than a day before 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, is the most famous of the three UCLA players. “I want to start by apologizing for stealing from Chinese stores,” LiAngelo Ball said at a press conference after returning to the United States. “I’m young, but it’s not an excuse to make a stupid decision.”

Scott also said the regret shown by the players helped them allow them to return immediately. “They apologized for it and expressed that,” he said. “There is an element of face saving involved for local authorities to understand foreigners coming in with respect to local laws and local culture.”

It’s unclear if Griner has drugs in his luggage, and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining U.S. citizens for unreasonable reasons. But those close to Griner seem to be following one of the strategies used by those around Ball, Hill and Riley in 2017: make as little public noise as possible.

“We feel it can be counter-productive to have a lot of statements from us or from UCLA or from the families of student-athletes,” Scott said. “We feel that silent diplomacy behind the scenes is the very best step into action and so we are careful not to talk about the state of the media or otherwise.”

The incident for UCLA players in China, like Griner’s situation, has a political backdrop, as it happened during former President Donald J. Trump’s visit to China for trade talks. He later took credit for ensuring the speedy release of the players, a claim that Ball’s father, LaVar, publicly denied.

It is unclear whether Russia is targeting Griner, a two -time Olympic gold medalist, for leverage against the United States, which has led a widespread effort to impose harsh sanctions on Russia and the elite. its oligarch at the time of its invasion of Ukraine.

Firestone said the allegations against Griner could be serious regardless of external circumstances, but the increasingly cold political climate between Russia and the United States could complicate Griner’s situation in many ways. In addition to potentially interfering with his ability to obtain consular access, it would prevent a potential exchange of prisoners, allowing 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 working with Russians last year, leading to a 75 percent reduction in its staff, according to The Associated Press.

Griner’s detention, Allred said, was taken out of the overall conflict between the two countries. But Allred also acknowledged that Russian authorities are moving away from the usual practice.

“The fact that he has been in custody since Feb. 17 and that the State Department has not been granted consular access, even if they have asked for that, is very unusual and even more troubling,” Allred said.

Allred declined to comment when asked where Griner was detained.

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

Allred plays football at Baylor University, where Griner dominated women’s basketball and led the Bears to an NCAA championship in 2012.

“As a fellow Baylor alum, I was concerned about this, but 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 get him out of there and home as soon as possible.”

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