US campaign to free Brittney Griner from Russian prison grows

In the more than four months that Brittney Griner has languished in a Russian prison, the basketball star’s supporters have mounted demands that the Biden administration pressure Vladimir Putin to release her.

The campaign to win his freedom has intensified, with the “We are BG” website attracting more than 269,000 signatures on a petition urging President Biden “to act today – by doing whatever it takes” to bring her home.

Supporters say that since the Biden administration declared Griner “wrongfully detained” last month, they could strike a deal with the Russians, similar to the prisoner swap that freed U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in April. Reed had been detained in Russia since 2020, but was swapped with Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of drug trafficking.

Last month Russian media reported that Putin’s government may be considering trading Griner for a convicted Russian arms dealer. Victor Boutwho is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison after his 2011 conviction in federal court in New York for conspiring to sell weapons to a Colombian terrorist group.

“We Are BG 42” is displayed outside the Footprint Center before the WNBA game between the Phoenix Mercury (Griner’s team) and the Minnesota Lynx.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, who helped free Reed, is also working on Griner’s case, according to reports.

“I’m sure the Russians are going to ask for something in return, because Brittney Griner is very high profile,” Richardson said last month. “There’s a lot of attention for her. She’s a global figure. And the Russians will want something in return.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, lambasted the Biden administration last week after US embassy officials in Moscow failed to respond to a call from Brittney Griner on the fourth anniversary. of the couple’s wedding. The call was believed to have been patched by the embassy, ​​and Griner attempted to call his wife 11 times, according to reports.

Brttney Griner
The Biden administration declared Griner “wrongfully detained” last month.
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was fed up, I was fed up. Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press, of how she felt on the birthday. “I’m pretty sure I texted the BG agent and said, ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s going to take me a minute to collect my emotions and tell everyone I don’t I’m not available right now. Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.

The State Department said it regretted the “logistical error”.

Cherelle Griner
Cherelle Griner was supposed to speak to his wife on their anniversary, but the call didn’t go through.

On Wednesday, more than 40 organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the NAACP, sent a letter to President Biden urging him “to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely.”

The signatories noted that Griner “continues to suffer inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family” and is “essentially a political pawn.”

Dawn Staley, Olympic gold medalist and basketball coach for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, tweet daily to its 144,900 followers, urging authorities to “#freebrittneygriner”. Staley coached Griner, who helped the USA women’s basketball team win a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics.

Lawmakers in Griner’s home state of Texas, including Democratic Rep. Colin Allred, also campaigned for his release alongside sports stars. Allred and other lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s release last month. Last week, members of the Phoenix Mercury met with State Department officials.

Brittney Griner from the United States
Griner won gold with the USA women’s basketball team at the 2020 Olympics.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo/File Photo

Although pressure is mounting to release Griner, Cherelle Griner said she doesn’t believe the Biden administration has begun negotiating with the Russian government for his return.

“To my knowledge, they haven’t started negotiating his release, and so this letter is very powerful because it’s much-needed support to underline the fact that we are at the stage where you should reach an agreement,” said Cherelle Griner.

“I wish I could say I have a clear understanding of it,” she said of the White House strategy. “They talk a lot in code with me.”

Christy J. Olson