Much is still unknown about Russia’s detention of WNBA star, and Texan, Brittney Griner. Russia took Griner into custody more than three weeks ago after officials claimed they had found hash oil in her luggage at an airport outside of Moscow. Griner plays in Russia for an international basketball league during the WNBA off-season.
American officials question the merits of Griner’s arrest, given Russia has a history of detaining people on trumped-up charges. Some even worry Griner may now be a political prisoner, in the midst of Russia’s war with Ukraine, and the United State’s entanglement as Ukraine’s ally.
Richard Justice, a journalist and contributor to Texas Monthly, spoke with Texas Standard about Griner’s detention and why getting her out of Russia is so complicated.
Listen to the interview with Justice in the audio player above or read the highlights below.
– Griner was detained before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia has not yet disclosed the charges against Griner, but Justice argues she could have been a target because of her fame, her sexuality – Griner is gay – and her race. Justice says her detention is a very serious, “treacherous” situation.
– Justice argues Griner is now a political prisoner of Russia. He believes that because of the timing of Griner’s arrest, and calls it “too peculiar,” especially given what she is claimed to have done. And because there is almost no diplomatic relationship between the United States and Russia right now, he says there is not much the State Department can do, though it says it is monitoring the situation. Justice doesn’t expect Griner’s release unless the war in Ukraine is resolved and the United States reestablishes a relationship with Russia.
“It’s not like in a court of law here or in Canada. It’s different, and you are at the mercy of the Russian government at this point,” Justice said.
– Griner grew up in Houston and played for Baylor University. At 6 feet 8 inches, Justice says Griner is an exceptional player and very popular among her teammates.
“She did things that we have never seen a player do,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”