Over 40 organisations call on Biden to do more to free Brittney Griner from detention in Russia

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Brittney Griner (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Brittney Griner (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Dozens of organisations have signed a letter calling on President Joe Biden to make a deal to free Brittney Griner, the basketball star who has been detained in Russia for more than three months.

Ms Griner, whose resume includes two Olympic gold medals, an NCAA championship with Baylor University, and a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February just prior to the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on accusations that she was transporting hashish oil in her luggage. The US State Department has classified her as “wrongfully detained.”

In the letter, also addressed to Vice President Kamala Harris, Ms Griner’s allies wrote that the star “continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family” and called on the administration to increase its urgency regarding the matter and “make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”

Signatories to the letter included the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and a range other human rights, LGBTQ+, and sporting organisations.

Concern over Ms Griner’s safety in detention in Russia have mounted steadily over the last several months after tensions between the two countries spiked following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and accompanying US sanctions. The letter states that the US has essentially acknowledged that Ms Griner is being used as a “political pawn.”

The New York Times, which first reported the existence of the letter on Wednesday, stated that Ms Griner’s camp initially sought to keep her detention relatively low-profile in light of the tensions between the two involved countries.

But that strategy has now changed. Ms Griner has not been able to speak with her wife since her detention began, and the US has reportedly not directly been directly negotiating for her release.

The letter, organised by Ms Griner’s attorney, seeks to change that — asking that President Biden “make a deal” to bring Ms Griner home.

In a statement following the release of theTimes article, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that “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. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly spoke with Cherelle Griner earlier this month, and administration officials and the special envoy for hostage affairs have also reportedly been in regular contact with Ms Griner’s team. Former New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson has also been working on the case.

Despite all that, Cherelle Griner has voiced her concern in recent days that the White House is not taking her wife’s situation seriously enough. She told MSBNC that she has asked to speak with Mr Biden, but that she has not yet been able to. She has not spoken with Ms Harris either.

Ms Griner is not the only American currently being held in Russia. Former Marine Paul Whelan has been detained in the country since 2018 after he was arrested on espionage charges.