Brittney Griner is Free, But Another American Remains Locked Up in Russia for Pot
Brittney Griner is back on American soil following ten months in Russian custody on drug charges. But other U.S. citizens remain locked up in Russia, including a 61-year-old man whose detention mirrors the experience of Griner.
Politico published a story last week on Marc Fogel, who was arrested last year after Russian authorities found medical marijuana in his possession.
“Fogel’s case bears a striking similarity to Griner’s, which has captured national headlines since the WNBA star was detained in Russia in February 2022. Like Griner, Fogel — a 61-year-old history teacher from Pennsylvania who lived in Russia while teaching at the Anglo-American School in Moscow — was taken into custody by Russian authorities in August 2021 after customs officials at a Russian airport discovered around half an ounce of medical marijuana stashed in his luggage,” Politico reported.
“The drugs had been prescribed to him by doctors in the U.S. to help treat chronic pain stemming from a series of injuries and operations, but Fogel’s reasons didn’t matter. Ten months later, in June 2022, a Russian court convicted him of drug trafficking charges and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. In October, Fogel was transferred from a Moscow detention center to one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies, where he is slated to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the outlet continued.
Griner, a perennial all-star for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and one of the most decorated women’s basketball players ever, was released last week after U.S. and Russian officials negotiated a prisoner swap. In exchange for the release of Griner, the U.S. agreed to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who had been serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
The deal drew some criticism from those who lamented the release of Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” There was also disappointment that the U.S. was unable to also secure the release of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who has been detained by Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.
U.S. officials sought a two-for-one deal –– Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout –– but such an arrangement never materialized.
“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said last week following Griner’s release.
Griner was arrested at a Russian airport in February after officials found a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law. In August, a Russian court found her guilty and sentenced her to nine years in prison.
Griner’s detention attracted international attention, and emerged as a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia. Foley’s case, meanwhile, has flown decidedly under the radar.
“The State Department has not granted him “wrongfully detained” status, despite repeated appeals from a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Fogel’s lawyers. (A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment on the specifics of Fogel’s case, saying: “The Department continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.”) In the media, Fogel’s detention has been overshadowed by the coverage of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges,” Politico reported last week.
“It’s a bit mysterious to me why we [aren’t] talking about three Americans — now, thankfully, two Americans — instead of just one,” said Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told Politico. “He’s not just some random guy that got arrested — he was part of our community … He taught our kids, the kids of U.S. government officials and he taught our military’s kids.”