Brittney Griner Makes Direct Plea to Biden for Her Freedom

Tuesday - 05/07/2022 06:29
Handwritten letter from women’s basketball star, on trial in Russia on drug charges, is delivered to White House
PHOTO: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS
PHOTO: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—Women’s professional basketball star Brittney Griner made a direct plea to President Biden to work to free her and other Americans detained abroad, in a handwritten letter delivered Monday to the White House.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Ms. Griner wrote, according to excerpts provided by her agent.

The White House said Monday that “the U.S. government continues to work aggressively—using every available means—to bring her home.”
 


Brittney Griner appeared in a Moscow-area court in a drug case that could carry as much as 10 years in prison for a conviction. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
 

“We believe the Russian Federation is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner. President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson.

Ms. Griner, 31 years old, who plays for the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Mercury, has been jailed since mid-February, when she was stopped at a Moscow airport and accused of bringing hashish oil into the country as she was traveling to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, the professional team where she has long spent the WNBA offseason. Russia invaded Ukraine a week after her detention, returning U.S.-Russian relations to historic lows.

Her trial began last week with low prospects for an acquittal and charges that upon conviction carry a sentence of up to 10 years. The U.S. has declared her to be wrongfully detained by Russia, effectively committing the government to securing her release.

Negotiations stand to be even more complicated than such transactions usually are. Russia has floated the prospect—then pulled it back—of freeing Ms. Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian convicted of arms dealing.
 

Ms. Griner’s supporters haven’t specified how they want her to be released, other than that they want the White House to do whatever is necessary.

Supporters of Trevor Reed, an American freed in April through a prisoner swap, have said that securing such deals often rests on rallying public support at home and keeping up pressure on the U.S. government. Ms. Griner isn’t the only American considered wrongfully detained in Russia, U.S. officials are also facing calls to bring back Paul Whelan, a former Marine held since 2018, convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years.

Other excerpts released from Ms. Griner’s letter emphasized the toll of her imprisonment, her patriotism and support for the president.

“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” one excerpt read.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” she wrote in another. “Please do all you can to bring us home…I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

Russian officials deny that she has been taken as a kind of hostage—an accusation levied by some American politicians—and have sought to distance the Kremlin from the legal proceedings.

Ken Thomas contributed to this article.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

Author: Editors Desk

 Keywords: Russia, U.S.A/Russia

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