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'Might as well try' | Rice professor doesn't think public demands will lead to release of Americans detained abroad

Britney Griner is currently imprisoned in Russia and a Change.org petition is gaining steam. But that doesn't mean it will lead to her release.

HOUSTON — A petition has been started to secure a safe return for Houston native and WNBA All-Star Britney Griner after she was detained in Russia.

RELATED: Brittney Griner detained in Russia: Petition started for WNBA star, Houston native's safe return

According to Change.org, hundreds have already signed the petition on their website.

Griner being detained in Russian was first reported by the New York Times and then confirmed by KHOU 11.

A Russian press release said that a professional basketball player had been detained for allegedly having vapes that contained hashish oil in her airport luggage and that an investigation was underway.

RELATED: 'I love my wife wholeheartedly' | Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle, posts statement on WNBA star's arrest

The press release about the detainment doesn't mention Griner specifically. The New York Times identified the player as Griner, citing Russian news agency TASS.

KHOU 11's Matt Musil reached out to Griner's father, who confirmed the story, saying her lawyers were involved.

According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, Griner was detained back in February. She had flown to Moscow from New York, and according to Russian officials, a dog indicated drugs may be in her carry-on luggage.

Richard Stoll, Albert Thomas professor of political science at Rice University, weighed in on whether public demands for Griner’s release really make a difference.

“Probably not, but they might as well try,” Stoll said.

Because the arrest happened in February, Stoll doesn't think it initially had anything to do with the current geopolitical climate.

“I think that all happened independent of foreign policy,” Stoll said. “Now, it’s tangled up because of what’s happening in the Ukraine.”

The United States government estimates there are currently more than 40 Americans detained by foreign governments, many of which the US has strained relations with, such as Russia and Venezuela.

Venezuela is where the Houston based Citgo 6 employees have been imprisoned since 2017.

Stoll said when it comes to trying to get detained Americans back to the US, it typically begins with an American diplomat going to speak with foreign officials in that country and getting permission to speak with, or visit, the prisoner.

Stoll said that if the diplomat believes the American is being held unfairly, “they might up the ante a bit and say, ‘well, if you treat this person unfairly there may be consequences.’”

That has not worked so far with the Citgo employees. However, this past weekend, US officials went back to Venezuela to discuss not only loosening sanctions so it can produce more oil, but also the release of those prisoners, according to a source who spoke with CNN.

“It’s more helpful to get that person released if the US can offer them something else in addition. 'We’ll reduce sanctions. We’ll release some of your people,' some kind of a trade,” Stoll said.

When it comes to Griner’s case, Stoll thinks it’s unlikely Russia will release her in the near future.

“As long as tensions remain high, I think that’s unlikely," Stoll said.

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