Diplomats were working to ensure the release of seven-time WNBA All-Star player Brittney Griner after Russia said it had detained the player last month for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday.
The Russian Customs Service, without naming Griner, said on Saturday that it had detained an athlete in February after the player arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on a flight from New York.
Russian news agency TASS identified the player as Griner, citing a source. Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, said: “We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia.”
A scan of the player’s luggage revealed cartridges containing “liquid with hashish oil”, and a criminal case has been opened carrying a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison, the customs service said.
It was not clear when in February Griner, who plays in Russia during the WNBA’s winter off-season, was detained. The player is still in custody and an investigation is underway, the Russian Customs Service said.
Griner, who won Olympic gold medals with the U.S. national teams in 2016 and 2021, “has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball,” USA Basketball said on Twitter.
At a joint press conference with Moldova President Maia Sandu on Sunday, Blinken said the Biden administration had assigned an embassy team to work on Griner’s case.
“There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,” Blinken said of Griner. “Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia.”
He added, “We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia. We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.”
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