Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls for Russia to release WNBA star Brittney Griner

"Let me be very clear, Brittney Griner is a United States citizen. She was a guest in Russia … I will be demanding her release," said the congresswoman.

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Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has called on the Russian government to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from custody.

The 72-year-old congresswoman represents Griner’s hometown of Houston and over the weekend, she reacted to Griner being detained by Russia “for almost a month” after authorities there reportedly confiscated hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.

Speaking at a press conference aired by FOX 26 Houston Lee said Russia “has no right to hold Ms. Griner, period.”

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Brittney Griner Getty

“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 told the crowd at Saturday’s press conference.

Griner is a member of the Russian basketball UMMC Ekaterinburg. She has reportedly been in custody for over three weeks and her arrest came shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

As reported by PEOPLE, the two-time Olympic basketball champion has been charged with smuggling “narcotic drugs” into the country. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison. 

Lee said she contacted the U.S. State Department “to try and get them to focus on her circumstances.” The 18th district representative noted that Moscow prisons “is no place for her.”

“Please, allow Miss Griner to leave. Allow her legal representation to handle her matters,” the Texas lawmaker said before calling on Russia to release all foreign prisoners currently being detained.  

“The one thing about Russian prisoners, when they are foreign [or] from foreign countries, the treatment is horrific,” Lee said Saturday. “Their lives are in jeopardy. Their health is in jeopardy. We don’t know whether they’ll make it. Their healthcare is not provided. They’re not eating right.” 

“I know that first-hand from the prisoners and the families that I’ve talked to whose loved ones are still in Russia today,” she continued, noting her hope that the U.S. “can demand the release of their citizens now and at least demand that they are protected, their health is protected, and that they are not having these enormous sentences.”

During her plea for Griner’s release, Lee described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “harasser, a terrorist, [and] a killer.”

Meanwhile, Cherelle Griner, the wife of the Phoenix Mercury center, thanked the basketball star’s supporters in an Instagram post of a photo featuring the couple sitting on a beach.

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated,” she wrote in the caption. “I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life.”

Cherelle added, “I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely. Thank you!”

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