Dozens of organizations representing people of color, women and LGBTQ voters called on President Biden Wednesday to reach a deal for the release of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since February.
In a letter sent to Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the groups said that Ms. Griner “continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family.”
The letter said the United States “has recognized that Brittney is essentially a political pawn by classifying her as wrongfully detained.” And while the signatories cited “deep appreciation” for the administration’s efforts to free Ms. Griner, “we now urge them to make a deal for Brittney to return to the United States immediately and safely.”
Basketball player Phoenix Mercury was detained in Russia on February 17 over allegations that she had hash oil in her luggage. At first, the Griner team was concerned that the publicity could make matters worse due to tensions between Russia and the United States, including the war in Ukraine.
But the group’s focus has changed since the State Department said on May 3 that it had determined that Ms. Griner had been “wrongfully detained.” That meant the United States could do more to bring her home despite legal action against her in Russia.
In recent weeks, WNBA players, working with Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and others, have tried to bring attention to her case.
The latest effort, the charter by groups including the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, was coordinated by Ms. Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who worked with Democratic strategist Karen Finney. and others. The groups, representing a coalition of constituencies that helped elect Biden, are speaking out amid growing frustrations about the pace of efforts to bring Griner home.
“As far as I understand, you have not started negotiating your release, so this letter is very powerful because it is much-needed support to highlight the fact that we are at the stage where you guys should be making a deal,” Cherelle said. Griner.
“I wish I could say that I clearly understand it,” he said of the White House strategy. “They talk a lot in code with me.”
The administration, he said, is “debating whether to start negotiating” after it has been determined that his wife was wrongfully detained. “Instead they are debating and wasting my wife’s time of life.”
White House officials declined to comment.
Administration officials have said that the Biden team is in regular contact with the Griner family and that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Cherelle Griner in May. The special envoy for hostage affairs is also in contact with Mrs. Griner’s team.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former US ambassador to the United Nations, has also been working to try to free Griner and another American in Russia, former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held since 2018.
Still, Cherelle Griner said she wasn’t sure to what degree the White House was prioritizing the case. She told The Associated Press that she was supposed to speak to his wife on the phone over the weekend for the first time in about four months, but a logistical problem at the US embassy in Moscow disrupted plans.
According to The AP, the embassy was supposed to facilitate the call between the two women. But when Brittney Griner called the embassy to contact his wife in the United States, there was no answer. Attorneys for Brittney Griner said she tried to call the line 11 times while her wife waited in vain for the call, the AP reported.
“I was distraught. I was injured. I was fed up, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told The AP.