Rights groups call on Biden to negotiate release of WNBA star Griner

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By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) – A coalition of human rights groups called on U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday to “make a deal” to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for months.

Griner was taken into custody at a Moscow airport on February 17 when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed several cannabis oil vape cartridges. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Last week, his pre-trial detention was extended until July 2.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone Wednesday evening with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the two-time Olympic champion, a senior State Department official said, without giving details of the content of the call. .

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On Tuesday, the State Department said Griner was unable to speak to his wife over the weekend as planned due to a logistical problem compounded by Russian restrictions on US Embassy operations. in Moscow.

Forty advocacy groups, including the National Organization for Women, Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, said they appreciated the Biden administration’s efforts, which included labeling the 31-year-old woman ‘wrongfully detained’ in May and the assignment of diplomats to work for his release.

But they said more needed to be done.

“The US government has recognized that Brittney is essentially a political pawn by classifying her as wrongfully detained,” the groups said in a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris that was seen by Reuters.

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“While these steps were critically important, we now urge you to reach an agreement to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told Reuters the government was exploring all avenues to secure Griner’s release.

“President Biden has been clear on the need to see all U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas released, including Brittney Griner,” Watson said in an email.

“The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every means available – to bring her home.”

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One of the brightest stars in the United States women’s professional basketball league, Griner is a WNBA champion, seven-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Griner’s arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport came as diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow soured following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

Griner played for years for a Russian professional team during the WNBA offseason to supplement his income. She is a seven-time Russian League champion.

On Monday, a Kremlin spokesman said Griner was guilty of drug offenses, not hostage.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Toby Davis and Kenneth Maxwell)

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