An American citizen and professional athlete has been locked in a Russian prison for months over petty charges. But have you even heard about it?
As Olivia Rondeau previously reported for BASEDPolitics, WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested by Russian officials in February over drug charges related to hashish oil, a cannabis product.
Griner was in Russia because she plays for a Russian women’s basketball team during the WNBA offseason. The substance is legal in her home state of Arizona and she only brought two small cartridges for personal use. (Hardly a drug-smuggling operation). However, Griner faces an almost certain conviction in a show trial and up to 10 years—yes, a decade behind bars!—upon conviction. Unfortunately, many believe a conviction is imminent.
Griner just released a heart-breaking letter on July 4th pleading for her release and asking the Biden administration to do more.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote. “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,”
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” she added. “Please do all you can to bring us home…I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
This is a national outrage and we should be doing everything we can to bring Brittney home.
The Biden administration isn’t unsympathetic. The State Department officially labeled Griner wrongfully detained and the White House has put out statements saying they’re working toward her release. But the extent they’re willing to prioritize this and make concessions to secure her release will ultimately come down to public pressure.
So, we’ve got to keep building a fire under their feet.
This is a moral outrage, and Griner is essentially a political prisoner at this point. For one, the actual offense she committed is so minor and petty it shouldn’t be a crime. But if she did break Russia’s drug laws—and we really have no idea if any of it’s even true because their government is wildly corrupt—then she should’ve gotten a slap on the wrist at most.
Griner’s continued imprisonment is obviously political, most likely an attempt to build leverage over the US amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. (Yes, she was arrested before the invasion began, but they were probably already planning it, and regardless it’s certainly influencing her continued detainment.)
I don’t care whether or not you like Griner’s politics or are a fan of women’s basketball. She is an American, one of us, being wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical foreign government. Her situation demands our support—and it could make a difference.
We already saw with the original #FreeBrittney campaign over Brittney Spears’ conservatorship, where her father had legal control over her most intimate decisions and finances, that public outcry can lead to real change. Spears was finally freed after public awareness spotlighted her legal efforts and put pressure on decision-makers.
It’s time to do the same thing for another Brittney.