A spokesman for Russian president VladimirPutin speaks out about the imprisonment of WNBA star Brittney Griner for the first time. Despite the U.S. classifying Brittney as being “wrongfully detained by the Russian government,” Russia doesn’t think so.
More details about Brittney’s detainment, plus her wife’s reaction to the government missing her long-awaited call over the weekend inside…
It’s been over four months since WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained in a Russian prison after Moscow-area airport authorities reportedly found vape pens that contained hashish oil in her luggage on February 17th. The offense could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in a Russian prison.
Since her arrest, the 31-year-old basketball player has been languishing behind bars as she desperately awaits her trial date, which has been pushed back three times now.
Unfortunately, there’s no indication that the seven-time WNBA All-Star - who plays for the Phoenix Mercury - will be released anytime soon.
Dmitry Peskov - spokesman for Russian president VladimirPutin - told NBC News’ Keir Simmons that Brittney is NOT a political prisoner, despite the U.S. declaring she’s being “wrongfully detained” last month amid Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. Oversight of her case was transferred to the State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which should have launched more aggressive efforts to get her home.
Simply put, she broke the law and must be held accountable just like "hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens that were sentenced for carrying hashish."
“Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?” he said. “She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted,” Peskov said. “It’s not about being a hostage. There are lots of American citizens here. They’re enjoying their freedoms … but you have to obey the laws.”
When asked why Russia didn’t refuse Brittney entry into Russia or why she hasn’t been sent home, Vladimir’s spokesman said he couldn’t comment on Russian law enforcement’s decision.
Over the weekend, CherelleGriner - Brittney Griner’s wife - was expecting to hear from her wife on the couple’s fourth anniversary (June 18th). However, the U.S. government fumbled the call, leaving her devastated.
The AP reports:
The couple has not spoken by phone in the four months since Griner’s arrest in Russia, where she remains jailed. That was to have changed Saturday, when a long-awaited call was to have finally taken place after getting Russian government approval. But the day came and went without any contact, leaving an anguished Cherelle Griner to wonder what went wrong and to suspect at least initially that Russian authorities had thwarted the call.
On Monday, she said she learned from her wife’s lawyers a more distressing truth: Brittney Griner had actually tried to call 11 times over a period of several hours, dialing a number she’d been given at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, which the couple had been told would then patch the call through to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix. But each time, the call went unanswered because the desk at the embassy where the phone rang was apparently unstaffed on Saturday.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press in an interview, recounting how an anniversary she had eagerly anticipated was instead spent in tears. “I’m pretty sure I texted BG’s agent and was like: ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I’m unavailable right now.’ Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.”
The State Department owned up to their mistake, releasing a statement that said:
”We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.” The department reiterated that it has no higher priority than the safety of Americans overseas and that it remains in regular contact with families of hostages and wrongful detainees."
As expected, Cherelle is upset at the government and does not trust that they will do everything they can to bring her wife back to the States.
“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
Cherelle Griner said a contact in the U.S. government had apologized to her for the error. She said she’s since learned that the one number Brittney Griner had been given to dial typically processes calls from prisoners on Mondays through Fridays but not weekends, which is why no one was there to transfer the call.
“But mind you,” Cherelle Griner said in the interview, “this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks — with a weekend date.”
So far, Cherelle has had to rely exclusively on others’ assessments about her wife’s condition.
Last week, it was reported Brittney Griner would remain in Russian custody through at least July 2nd.
The Khimki district court of the Moscow region extended Griner’s detention for a third time, according to the Tass report, which also cited a top Russian diplomat as saying that Moscow will not consider including Griner in a detainee swap “until a court investigation into her case is completed.”
Prayers up that she’s brought home safely soon.
Photo: AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File/Cherelle's IG