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Freeing WNBA’s Griner a ‘priority’ for Biden: White House

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US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 1, 2022./AFP
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Jul 06, 2022 - 08:22 AM

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

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

Her trial for charges of 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, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that “the president did read the letter.”

“This is an issue that is a priority for this president,” she stated simply at her daily press briefing, without adding further details.

Griner was detained in the days before Russia began its full-on assault on Ukraine, after which the United States and its allies imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow.

Her case has become one of many sticking points in historically low relations between the United States and Russia, with Washington saying the 31-year-old Griner has been “wrongfully detained” and putting its special envoy in charge of hostages on the case.

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

“We want to see Americans released. We want to see this practice banished, whether it is in the case of Russia or any other country, that engages in the practice of wrongfully — unjustly — detaining Americans or third-country nationals for political benefit,” Price told reporters.

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

“We certainly understand the inclination on the part of families to bring as much publicity as they can to their cases,” he added.

After their match on Monday night, Griner’s teammates on the Phoenix Mercury called for more prominent and consistent media coverage of her case.

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

“If it were LeBron James or Tom Brady, this would be news that would be in the headlines every day,” added guard Sophie Cunningham.

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