Brittney Griner, the WNBA star jailed in Russia since February on drug charges, sent President Biden a handwritten letter Monday urging him not to forget her.
“Sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I fear that I may be here forever,” Griner testified in an excerpt the letter shared by their representatives.
She continued: “I realize that you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American prisoners. Please do whatever you can to bring us home.”
A White House spokeswoman declined to say whether the president received the letter, but she did provide a statement from Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
“President Biden has made it clear that all US citizens who are being held hostage or wrongly imprisoned abroad must be released, including Brittney Griner. The US government continues to work aggressively — by any means available — to bring them home,” Watson said.
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She added that “the President’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family.”
Griner, 31, was arrested on February 17 after being accused of having hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. She was in Russia to play with UMMC Yekaterinburg, a women’s professional basketball team for which she competed during several WNBA offseasons. She has played for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury since 2013, when the team drafted her No. 1 overall pick, and she has won two Olympic gold medals with the US women’s national basketball team.
Griner faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if convicted of drug offenses in Russia. Her trial began on Friday, and legal experts said she is likely to be found guilty. But not necessarily in the matter.
“There’s a bias, mainly because the Russian justice system says they really shouldn’t go to court unless the accused is convicted,” William Pomeranz, acting director of the Kennan Institute and an expert on Russian law, told the New York Times lately. “There is no real notion or expectation that the accused could be innocent. There is no presumption of innocence, really.”
Griner did not respond to the allegations. The US State Department found in May that she was “wrongly detained,” but did not say how or why it came to that conclusion. The determination meant government officials dealing with hostages would work to free them. More than 40 Americans were reportedly wrongly arrested around the world earlier this year.
In her letter to Biden, Griner referred to July 4th. “It hurts to think about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something very different to me this year,” she said, adding that she voted for the first time in the 2020 presidential election — and chose Biden have.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly called on Biden to help free her wife. Last month, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, coordinated a letter from dozens of women’s and civil rights organizations to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The letter said Griner had been subjected to “inhumane treatment.”
“We now urge you to make a deal to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely,” the letter said.
In April, the United States and Russia held a prisoner swap that released Trevor R. Reed, a former US Marine who had been held for more than two years on charges of assault. In exchange, the United States released Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for cocaine trafficking.
U.S. officials have not said if they would consider a prisoner swap to free Griner.
Longstanding tensions between the United States and Russia and the ongoing war in Ukraine have complicated Griner’s situation, but government officials have said her release is a priority.
Michael D Shear contributed reporting.