The notable WNBA star Brittney Griner has been arrested in the Russian Federation for drug-related offences. Her case garnered national attention last week, when a Russian law expert speaking at a Fox News section speculated that she could face a sentence of up to five years in a labour camp.

Brittney Yevette Griner is a player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Widely known as the greatest woman basketball player of all time, her playing record is truly stellar, having already won two gold medals at the age of 32, and being the only player in U.S. basketball history to both score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. She is also known for her LGBTQ+ and African-American civil rights activism.

Griner is openly lesbian and married to Cherell Griner (formerly Cherell Watson). She was one of the most famous players who refused to kneel to the national anthem during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice.

The legendary WNBA player was arrested at a Moscow airport this February, where she had landed to participate in an offseason game. She was charged with the possession of illegal cannabis oil in vaping cartridges, after a working dog working with the authorities apparently sniffed out the narcotics in her luggage.[1] The U.S. Department of State has so far been unable to reach her directly, and is unlikely to be able to affect the sentence she will eventually receive.[2] Drug smuggling is a serious crime in Russia, and while the basketball player is currently being held in pre-trial custody for two months, her sentence after trial could be as high as five years in a forced labour camp, according to the Illinois Russian law expert Peter Maggs.[3] A semi-autonomous monitoring body has confirmed that she was being treated well, claiming the ‘only issue’ she faced was the small size of the prison beds.[4]

Courtesy of NBC News

Brittney Griner has been called a political prisoner for a number of reasons. Firstly, her vocal activism for LGBTQ+ causes might have been one of the factors prompting her arrest and possible harsh sentence. Similarly, it is not unlikely that she is effectively being held hostage due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, solely because of her state as a U.S. celebrity.[5] Unfortunately, it is unlikely that she will get away with anything close to a pardon or diplomatic settlement, given the fate of the other U.S. citizens currently serving jail times in Russian prisons.[6]

A State Department spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal last week that U.S. officials are “closely engaged on this case and in frequent contact with Brittney Griner’s legal team.”


[1] https://www.breitbart.com/sports/2022/03/23/report-wnbas-brittney-griner-could-face-5-years-in-russian-labor-camp-over-drug-charges/, & https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/05/world/brittney-griner-arrest-russia/index.html.

[2] https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-18/us-demands-russia-allow-access-to-detained-brittney-griner.

[3] https://www.foxnews.com/sports/us-olympian-brittney-griner-5-years-russian-labor-camp-expert.

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-60781704.

[5] https://www.thenation.com/article/world/russia-brittney-griner/.

[6] https://observer.com/2017/04/viktor-bout-americans-in-russian-jails/.

Anthony Tilghman

Anthony Tilghman, is an 2x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the...

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