State Department Says Griner Release from Russia a Priority

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making the return of wrongfully detained Americans such as basketball star Britney Griner his priority, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. 

“We want to see this practice banished,” Price said, “whether it is in the case of Russia or any other country that wrongfully, unjustly detains Americans or Third Country Nationalists for political benefit.” 

Griner was arrested in February on charges of possessing cannabis oil. The WNBA star is facing a drug transportation charge that could lead to a maximum 10-year sentence if convicted. The trial began last Friday and is set to resume Thursday. 

On Monday Griner sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden asking him to “do all you can” to bring home her and other Americans detained or held hostage in Russia. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that Biden has read the letter. 

Griner’s representatives shared parts of the letter Monday. 

“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. 

When Price was asked whether Blinken has been in contact with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Britney Griner, Price said the two spoke last month and that the State Department is in almost daily contact with Griner’s broader network. 

“We do not want to do anything or say anything that would potentially jeopardize the chances of seeing an American released,” Price said. 

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Monday that Griner is being wrongfully detained and that the Biden administration “continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home.” 

Head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, spoke to the media about what message was being sent by not bringing Griner home yet.

“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” Nygaard asked. “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.” 

Price sympathized with Nygaard, saying, “the hurt here is immense … I say that from a person who can’t even imagine what Cherelle Griner is going through, what Britney Griner’s coach, what her teammates are going through and all those that love her.” 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.