Experts and politicians have grave fears for the safety of American lesbian basketballer Brittney Griner, after her arrest in Russia a month ago.
Custom officials arrested the American WNBA star at an airport near Moscow on or around February 17, according to the US government.
Russian authorities accused the two-time Olympic gold medalist of having a vape cartridge containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
However a month later, very little is publicly known about Griner’s circumstances, including her current whereabouts. US politicians have said Russia has blocked US consular support for several weeks.
Jonathan Franks, who has worked with numerous American citizens in similar situations, told CNN he’s “very concerned” about Griner.
“This has a lot of hallmarks of a very wrongful and arbitrary detention,” he explained.
“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 dismissed the statement from the Russian Customs Service, accusing Griner of “smuggling significant amounts of narcotic substances”.
“They’re making her out to sound like a drug kingpin,” he said.
“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.”
‘The most audacious hostage-taking by a state imaginable’
Iranian-American Jason Rezaian is a Washington Post reporter who was detained in Iran for years.
He also told CNN he believes the Griner case is “the most audacious hostage-taking by a state imaginable”.
“I know from my own case that the supposed charges against me were not based in anything like reality,” he said.
“They were used to perpetuate a narrative about why I was being held.
“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.”
US politicians concerned for Brittney Griner in Russia
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week American officials are “doing everything we can” to help Brittney Griner.
A US State Department spokesperson said officials are “closely engaged on this case”.
Multiple US politicians have also spoken out about their fears for Griner’s welfare.
Congressman Colin Allred told ESPN Griner has been in contact with her Russian lawyer, who is in touch with her agent and her family back in the US.
He said last week the US government was “working hard to try and get access to her”.
“But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations,” he said.
“I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.
“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.”
Fears US basketballer is ‘political pawn’
Congressman John Garamendi said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was looming large over the case.
“We don’t want Ms Griner to become a pawn in the political battle waged throughout the world right now,” he said.
“The war in Ukraine has essentially severed diplomatic ties between the US and Russia. That is going to exacerbate this issue.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also demanded Griner’s release, saying she fears for Brittney Griner’s safety.
“The one thing about Russian prisoners, when they are foreign [or] from foreign countries, the treatment is horrific,” Lee said.
“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.
“I know that first-hand from the prisoners and the families that I’ve talked to whose loved ones are still in Russia today.”
Brittney Griner’s family is ‘hurting’
Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle has posted messages to Instagram about her detention in Russia.
“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you,” she wrote.
“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.”
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