Freeing Griner from the WNBA is a ‘priority’ for Biden: White House

American WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives for a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on July 1, 2022.

Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

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US President Joe Biden has read a letter from Brittney Griner, the women’s basketball star detained in Russia since February, and her release is a “priority”, the White House said on Tuesday.

Griner’s family had released portions of their handwritten letter to Biden on Monday, in which the WNBA star implores the president to “do whatever you can” to secure his release.

Her trial for smuggling cannabis vape cartridges into Russia began last Friday, and the two-time Olympic champion faces up to 10 years in prison.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, my family, my friends, my Olympic jersey or any achievement, I am terrified of be here forever,” Griner wrote.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that “the president read the letter correctly.”

“This is a priority issue for this president,” she simply said during her daily press briefing, without adding further details.

Griner was arrested days before Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, after which the United States and its allies imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow.

His case has become one of many sticking points in historically weak US-Russia relations, with Washington claiming Griner, 31, was ‘wrongfully detained’ and putting its special envoy in charge of hostages. on the case.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “has had a few opportunities in recent days and weeks” to speak with the wife of basketball star Cherrelle Griner, and the State Department has been in “almost daily contact” with its representatives, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

“We want Americans freed. We want this practice outlawed, whether in the case of Russia or any other country, which engages in the practice of wrongfully – unjustly – detaining Americans or third-country nationals for political advantage,” Price told reporters.

Asked about criticism of the US government’s response by Griner’s family and teammates, Price said “we are doing everything we can to place their loved one in the most advantageous position to be released.”

“We certainly understand the tendency of families to publicize their cases as much as possible,” he added.

After their Monday night game, Griner’s teammates on the Phoenix Mercury called for more consistent media coverage of his case.

“There’s not enough outcry,” forward Brianna Turner said.

“If it was LeBron James or Tom Brady, it would be news that would be front page news every day,” added goaltender Sophie Cunningham.

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