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Brittney Griner writes letter to Joe Biden pleading for help in obtaining freedom from Russia

Basketball star tells president ‘I’m terrified I might be here forever’

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Tuesday 05 July 2022 11:29 BST
Brittney Griner being led from Russian courtroom on first day of trial

WNBA player Brittney Griner has written a letter to President Joe Biden pleading for help in freeing her from jail in Russia.

Ms Griner was detained in February by Russian authorities after customs officials allegedly found cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

In excerpts shared by her representatives, she writes: “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.”

In another portion, she tells the president: “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year."

She further adds: “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. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you.”

Ms Griner adds: “I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

The athlete’s court case will resume on Thursday and the charges levelled against her can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Dozens of organisations have already signed a letter calling on President Biden to make a deal to free Ms Griner. They 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.”

Her supporters have encouraged US authorities to consider a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organisation.

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a setup.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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