Brittney Griner urges fans to write to Paul Whelan and ‘advocate for other Americans to be rescued’

‘There remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 22 December 2022 08:06 GMT
Brittney Griner back on US soil after spending 294 days in Russian prison

Basketball star Britney Griner urged her supporters to write letters to former US marine Paul Whelan and "advocate" for the release of other detained Americans days after her release from a Russian penal colony.

The WNBA champion was arrested in February at an airport outside Moscow for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

The 32-year-old two-time Olympic gold medallist received letters of support from her followers after being subsequently convicted of drug smuggling and transferred to one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

A months-long relentless campaign by her family and supporters finally led to Ms Griner's release in December in a prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

"Thanks to the efforts of many, including you, I am home after nearly 10 months," Ms Griner wrote in a letter posted on Instagram.

She continued: "Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined." The letters, Ms Griner said, were "power of collective hands".

"There remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained," added Ms Griner, who left the Brooke Army Medical Centre last week.

"I hope you'll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families."

Mr Whelan, a former US Marine, has been in Russian custody since he was arrested just after Christmas in 2018 on what American officials have described as bogus espionage charges.

Mr Whelan, 52, was initially included in swap proposals by the US but was not part of the agreement ultimately reached, forcing president Joe Biden to deny prioritising Ms Griner’s return over his. He expressed dismay that more was not done to secure his release.

He told CNN that while he welcomed Ms Griner’s release from Russian custody, he had been “led to believe things were moving in the right direction” with efforts to secure his release.

Ms Griner in a statement following her release said she would do “whatever” it takes to secure the release of Mr Whelan.

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