Jailed WNBA star Griner appeals to Biden: ‘Get me home’

Basketball star Brittney Griner calls on US president to do all he can to secure her release from Russian jail.

Brittney Griner sitting on the sidelines of a basketball game in Phoenix, Arizona.
'As I sit here in a Russian prison ... I’m terrified I might be here forever,' Brittney Griner says in note to US President Joe Biden delivered on Monday, according to her representatives [File: Rick Scuteri/AP Photo]

US basketball star Brittney Griner has appealed to President Joe Biden to do all he can to secure her release from jail in Russia, saying in a letter that she is “terrified” she might remain imprisoned forever.

Representatives for Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) all-star and two-time Olympic gold medallist, released excerpts of the letter on Monday, the same day her agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said it was delivered to the White House.

“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 the hand-written note.

“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,” she added, referring to Independence Day in the United States.

“It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

Griner was arrested at the airport in the Russian capital in mid-February on charges of carrying vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil in her luggage.

Her incarceration came at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the US over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Biden administration has said she is being “wrongfully detained”.

Griner’s trial began in Moscow on July 1. Two witnesses were questioned by the prosecution: an airport customs official, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session, according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti.

The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses did not show up, and the next session was set for July 7.

US Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood told reporters at the trial that Griner told her she was “keeping the faith” and that she was doing “as well as can be expected”.

The Biden administration has previously said it is working to bring Griner and another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, home from Russia, and that their cases remain priorities.

In Monday’s letter, Griner urged Biden to use his powers to ensure her return.

“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. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” she said.

“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.”

Griner’s imprisonment has drawn calls for action from top US athletes, including her WNBA teammates, who met with US State Department officials in mid-June to push for her release.

“We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives,” Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi said in a statement released by the team at that time.

The WNBA Players Association also called for action on Monday, saying on Twitter: “It’s pretty tough enjoying a day meant to celebrate independence when one of our own citizens, Brittney Griner, is STILL wrongfully detained in Russia.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies