A congressman from Brittney Griner’s home state of Texas says the U.S. government has designated the out basketball player a “political prisoner” and is negotiating for her release accordingly.
“Basically, we’ve acknowledged and we understand now that she is being held as basically a political prisoner” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) in comments to TMZ.
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“In some ways, that’s helpful, because now we can just have a discussion on, ‘What is it going to take for you to allow us to bring her back home?'” he said.
Allred’s assertion came just hours after officials learned via Russian state media outlet TASS that Griner’s detention would again be extended, now until at least July 2, as her case works its way through the court system.
According to TASS, a Russian diplomat said on Tuesday the country will not consider a detainee swap for Griner until her case wraps up in the court system.
Russian authorities at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow arrested Griner on February 17, a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accusing her of “large-scale transportation of drugs.” The authorities allegedly found cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage. The charge carries a possible five- to 10-year prison sentence.
Video of her being stopped by airport security officers was posted on Twitter.
Brittney Griner detenida en Moscú 🚨
Los funcionarios de aduanas del aeropuerto encontraron drogas en su equipaje.
Es acusada de delito por tráfico tras supuestamente encontrar aceite de hachís. pic.twitter.com/AXOzvrvKbT
— El Perímetro (@ElPerimetro_es) March 5, 2022
Like many WNBA players, Griner has competed in Russia during the U.S. league’s off-season in order to make extra money. For several years, Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, based in the city of Yekaterinburg east of the Ural mountains and site of the execution of the last Romonov czar and his family in 1918.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who helped the U.S. women’s basketball time dominate in the 2016 and 2021 Olympic Games.
She currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the U.S.
Griner was arrested just a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has been in political limbo since. In May, the State Department acknowledged Griner was “wrongfully detained” and that the government was providing “appropriate consular support.”
Since then, Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner and supporters have struggled to keep her case and cause in the public eye.
In May, Congressman Allred, along with fellow Texan Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ), introduced a resolution in Congress calling for Griner’s immediate release.
“We must keep Brittney’s case on the forefront and make clear to the White House that her release should be one of the highest priorities for our government,” Cherelle wrote at the time. “I’m grateful to know that these leaders in Congress have Brittney’s back and will continue to do everything in their power to get her home.”