Dozens of organizations representing people of color, women and LGBTQ voters on Wednesday called on President Biden to reach a deal for the release of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since February.
In a letter sent to Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the groups said Ms Griner “continues to suffer inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family”.
The letter states that the United States “has recognized that Brittney is essentially a political pawn by classifying her as wrongfully detained.” And while the signatories cited “deep appreciation” for the administration’s efforts to free Ms Griner, “we now urge you to reach an agreement to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely.”
Basketball player Phoenix Mercury was arrested in Russia on February 17, accused of having hash oil in her luggage. At first, Ms. Griner’s camp feared the publicity could escalate the situation due to tensions between Russia and the United States, including the war in Ukraine.
But the group’s approach has changed since the State Department said on May 3 that it had determined Ms Griner had been “wrongfully detained”. It meant the United States could push harder to bring her home despite the legal proceedings against her in Russia.
In recent weeks, WNBA players, working with Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and others, have tried to draw attention to her case.
The latest effort, the letter from groups including the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, was coordinated by Ms. Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who worked with Democratic strategist Karen Finney and others. The groups, which represent a coalition of constituencies that helped elect Mr Biden, are speaking out amid growing frustration at the pace of efforts to bring Ms Griner home.
“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.”
The administration, she said, is “debating whether they should start negotiating,” after it has already been determined that his wife was wrongfully detained. “Instead, they are debating and they are wasting time of my wife’s life.”
White House officials declined to comment.
Administration officials said Mr. Biden’s team was in regular contact with the Griner family and that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Cherelle Griner in May. The Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs is also in contact with Mrs. Griner’s team.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former US ambassador to the United Nations, also worked to free Ms Griner and another American in Russia, former Marine Paul Whelan, detained since 2018 .
Still, Cherelle Griner said she’s not sure what priority the White House is giving the case. She told The Associated Press she was supposed to speak to his wife by phone for the first time in about four months over the weekend, but a logistical problem at the US Embassy in Moscow upset her. the plans.
According to The AP, the embassy was supposed to facilitate the call between the two women. But when Brittney Griner called the embassy to be put in touch with his wife in the United States, there was no answer. Lawyers for Brittney Griner said she tried to call the line 11 times while his wife waited unsuccessfully for the call, the AP reported.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, I was sick of it,” Cherelle Griner told the AP