Brittney Griner spent U.S. Independence Day 2022 in a Russian jail, currently under trial for allegedly attempting to smuggle a “significant amount” of cannabis oil through the country. She has been detained since February of this year. Furthermore, her time in detainment has repeatedly been extended, yet her attempts at communication with friends and family back home have proven labor-intensive when not bungled.
Griner currently faces up to 10 years for the charges. And per a 2019 article by The Independent, the acquittal rate in the Russian judicial system sits at 0.25%, which is even lower than during the Soviet Union’s Great Purge era under Joseph Stalin’s rule. So Griner penned a letter directly to President Biden, of which parts were shared from her reps and via ESPN reporter T.J. Quinn. In it, she said she is “terrified I might be here forever” and asked that she and fellow Americans who are jailed in Russia be remembered.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” she wrote in her letter to the White House. “Please do all that you can to bring us home.” And in another part of her correspondence, she spoke on the significance of spending this particular Independence Day in a Russian jail cell. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different this year,” she said.
Griner’s trial officially began this past Friday. Her attorney, Alexander Boykov, told reporters the following: “I wouldn’t want to talk on the specifics of the case and on the charges and to comment on our position on it because it’s too early for it.”
Like many other WNBA players, Griner also plays overseas during the offseason to supplement her stateside salary. The Phoenix Mercury center and 2x Olympic gold medalist has been a member of the Russian basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 as well.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken initially declined to make any specific comments on her case as recently as this last month. “As a general proposition… I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said when during a June 26 sit-down with CNN. “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”
But the U.S. State Department has since updated its determination of Griner’s detainment and found that the Russian government has “wrongfully” done so. And there have been rumors of a potential prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout a.k.a. “The Merchant of Death.”
Nevertheless, it appears Griner remains hopeful for an eventual and safe return to the United States. “I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!” her letter to President Biden concluded. “It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”