A U.S. congresswoman is demanding the release of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia since her arrest at a Moscow airport last month.
Griner, 31, was arrested in February after customs officials in Moscow searched her luggage and found a vape pen containing a small amount of hashish oil, also known as cannabis (weed) oil.
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Russia's Federal Customs Service announced her arrest in a statement on Saturday. Officials said that the 6-foot-9 center was charged with "smuggling drugs" into the country and she has been held in a Russian jail without bond for nearly a month.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee demanded that Russia release Griner from custody and allow her to return home. The 72-year-old congresswoman held a press conference on Saturday after the news broke.
Lee, who represents Griner's hometown of Houston, Texas, called on Russian officials to handle the situation "diplomatically" and she said Russia "has no right to hold Ms. Griner, period."
"Let me be very clear, Brittney Griner is a United States citizen. She was a guest in Russia ... I will be demanding her release."
Lee also said she has contacted the U.S. State Department "to try and get them to focus on her circumstances."
Because of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Lee remarked "how dangerous it is right now in Moscow," and "in Moscow prisons" where thousands of Russian protesters are being held for opposing the war.
"It is no place for her," Lee said, adding that her main concern is that Griner is being "appropriately cared for."
"Please, allow Miss Griner to leave. Allow her legal representation to handle her matters," Lee said.
Meanwhile, a former Pentagon official told Yahoo Sports she was concerned that Griner could become a "high-profile hostage."
"If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms," said Evelyn Farkas, who suggested Russia's President Vladimir Putin could use Griner to negotiate for the release of prisoners in the U.S. or to force the U.S. to lift sanctions.
"It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful," Farkas said.
Griner, pictured with NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, was in Russia to compete in the Russian Premier League. Many WNBA players compete overseas during the WNBA's off season. WNBA players typically earn more money overseas than during the regular season.