Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star Brittney Griner faces up to ten years in prison after being arrested on drug charges at an airport near Moscow.
Griner, 31, plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, but like many other professional women’s players, has an off-season side hustle on a team in the Russian women’s league.
The 6’9” center was charged with smuggling “narcotic drugs” several weeks ago when Russian Federal Customs Service officials searched her bags and allegedly found hashish oil vape cartridges.
“There is the potential throughout Russia of harassment towards foreigners, including through regulations targeted specifically against foreigners,” they warned.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), who represents Griner’s hometown Houston, is concerned that WNBA star is a victim of the forewarned harassment and has called for her return to the United States.
“Let me be very clear, Brittney Griner is a United States citizen. She was a guest in Russia … I will be demanding her release,” she said during a Saturday press conference.
Lee said that Russian president Vladimir Putin, and anyone that is “killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine,” has “no right” to hold the hoops star in custody, and noted how dangerous it currently is in Moscow and the Russian prison system. “It is no place for her.”
“The one thing about Russian prisoners, when they are foreign [or] from foreign countries, the treatment is horrific,” she detailed. “Their lives are in jeopardy. Their health is in jeopardy. We don’t know whether they’ll make it. Their healthcare is not provided. They’re not eating right.”
Lee wants the U.S. government to “demand the release of their citizens now and at least demand that they are protected, their health is protected, and that they are not having these enormous sentences.”
She concluded her speech by calling Putin a “a harasser, a terrorist, [and] a killer, and he’s killing innocent people in Ukraine, and we need to get our citizens out immediately.”
According to the WNBA, with the exception of Griner, all other members of the league who were playing in Russia during the off-season have managed to get out of the country.