Brittney Griner to Biden: ‘I’m terrified I might be here forever.’
By Shauntel Lowe
Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February, sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden on Monday asking him not to forget about her.
“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,” Griner said in an excerpt from the letter shared by her representatives.
She continued: “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”
A White House spokesperson would not say whether the president had received the letter, but she provided a statement from Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.
“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,” Watson said.
She added that “the president’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family.”
Griner, 31, was detained Feb. 17 after she was accused of having hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. She was in Russia to play with UMMC Ekaterinburg, a professional women’s basketball team that she had competed for during several WNBA offseasons. She has played for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury since 2013, when the team drafted her with the No. 1 overall pick, and she has won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S. women’s national basketball team.
Griner faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if she is convicted of the drug charges in Russia. Her trial began Friday, and legal experts said that she was likely to be found guilty, though not necessarily on the merits of the case.
“There’s a bias mainly because the Russian judicial system says they really should not go to trial unless the defendant is going to be convicted,” William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute and an expert on Russian law, told The New York Times recently. “There’s no real idea or expectation that the defendant could be innocent. There’s no presumption of innocence, really.”
Griner has not responded to the charges. The U.S. State Department determined in May that she had been “wrongfully detained,” though it has not said how or why it came to that conclusion. The determination meant that government officials who deal with hostages would work to free her. More than 40 Americans were said to be wrongfully detained around the world earlier this year.
In her letter to Biden, Griner referred to the Fourth of July. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” she said, adding that she voted for the first time in the 2020 presidential election — and chose Biden.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly urged Biden to help free her wife. Last month, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, coordinated a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris from dozens of women’s and civil rights organizations. The letter said that Griner was enduring “inhumane treatment.”
“We now urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely,” the letter said.
In April, the United States and Russia held a prisoner swap that freed Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been held on assault charges for more than two years. In exchange, the United States released Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for trafficking cocaine.
U.S. officials have not said whether they would consider a prisoner swap to free Griner.
Long-standing tensions between the United States and Russia and the ongoing war in Ukraine have complicated Griner’s situation, but government officials have said that securing her release is a priority.