Biden under pressure to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian prison : NPR

Dozens of civil and human rights groups wrote to Biden urging him to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. She has been in a Russian prison since February on suspicion of drugs.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

Pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to bring Brittney Griner home. The WNBA star is still in prison in Russia on drug charges. She was arrested in February. Now dozens of civil and human rights organizations have written to Biden urging action. That reports NPR’s Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The letter is addressed to President Biden and Vice President Harris and signed by organizations such as Human Rights Campaign, the National Organization for Women and the National LGBTQ Task Force. The Inclusion Playbook is another of more than 40 groups that have signed up. It also helped organize the effort. Inclusion Playbook president Ashland Johnson hopes the letter conveys a sense of urgency about Brittney Griner’s plight.

ASHLAND JOHNSON: She’s been in jail for 126 days and it’s time to do something.

GOLDMAN: The letter states that by classifying Griner as wrongly detained, the US government has acknowledged that she is essentially a political pawn. Therefore, Johnson says, the government could negotiate a deal, possibly similar to the April prisoner swap that released former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed. He has been imprisoned in Russia since 2020.

JOHNSON: The administration has it in their power to make an exchange, and we hope it’s a deal on the table.

GOLDMAN: Griner’s relatives were frustrated and said the efforts to free her were too slow. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told The New York Times that the government, to quote, “is debating whether to start negotiating. They are wasting time for my wife’s life.” A spokesman for the National Security Council said in a statement that the US government continues to work aggressively and use all available means to bring Griner home. Russian authorities are continuing their hard line against Griner, who claims to have brought hashish vape cartridges to the country. This week on NBC, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, refuted the claim that Griner is a hostage.

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DMITRY PESKOV: I absolutely do not agree with that. We can’t call her a hostage. She has broken Russian law and now she is being prosecuted.

GOLDMAN: Griner’s lawyer in Russia tells NPR that Griner will hold a preliminary hearing in her case next Monday. In the meantime, Ashland Johnson says public efforts will continue to pressure the government into a deal because, she says, those efforts matter.

JOHNSON: Anything we can do to keep that in the mind of the administration is extremely important.

GOLDMAN: Because the moment we forget, she says, is the moment when Brittney Griner loses hope. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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