“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure the release of Brittney as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US citizens who are wrongfully held or held hostage in Russia and around the world. He also read to her a draft of the letter the president is sending to Brittney Griner today,” the White House said.
Griner wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday that she fears she could be detained indefinitely in Russia.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or other achievements, I am terrified that I will be here forever,” said an excerpt from the obtained letter. said by CNN earlier this week.
Griner wrote: “I realize you’re dealing with so much but don’t forget me and the other US inmates. Please do everything you can to get us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for voted you “I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help me recover. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It pains me to know they are suffering so much right now I am grateful for everything you can do right now to get me home,” she wrote.
The White House said Biden has “offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s families, and pledged to ensure they receive all possible assistance while his administration is doing everything it can to bring Brittney home.”
Biden also instructed his team to “maintain regular contact” with the families of Cherelle and Brittney Griner.
Griner, 31, who played in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season, was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of narcotics, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. She was on Friday in a court near Moscow on charges of drug smuggling.
Griner supporters and US officials say she has been wrongly detained and have called for her release as fears mount that she is being used as a political pawn amid mounting tensions between Russia and the US.
Other detainees have not yet received a response
A coalition of families of American hostages and prisoners who wrote a joint letter to Biden asking to meet with him has not yet received a response, their spokesman said Wednesday. The statement about the lack of response to the “Bring Our Families Home” campaign came just before news that Biden and Harris spoke to Cherelle Griner.
In mid-June, the “Bring Our Families Home campaign” wrote to Biden formally asking him to meet with the campaign’s leadership team, stating that it “has become clear to us that without your direct involvement, other issues will continue to overshadow the release of our innocent relatives.”
In the days following that letter, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met families of Americans held hostage abroad and wrongfully held. He did not promise a meeting with Biden, but tried to assure them that the government is doing everything it can to bring their loved ones home.
Jonathan Franks, the campaign’s spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday that “the campaign has not received a response so far”.
There is growing frustration among the families of those of wrongful detainees abroad who feel the Biden government is not doing enough to secure the release of their loved ones. In recent weeks, several of those detainees have themselves appealed directly to Biden to try and get him to do more.
Paul Whelan, also detained in Russia, said in a statement Monday: “As the United States celebrates Independence Day, American citizens held hostage around the world are being reminded that freedom does not come for free.”
Last week, Siamak Namazi, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015, had published an op-ed in The New York Times, writing: “I am forced to break that silence now because I believe the Biden administration’s approach to Americans emergency rescue in Iran has failed spectacularly so far and unless the president intervenes immediately, we will likely languish in this abyss for the foreseeable future.”
Franks noted that “when wrongfully imprisoned Americans communicate in public from behind bars, they risk being punished for it, which makes their bravery all the more remarkable.”
“That the loved ones of our constituent families felt the need to write this open communication to President Biden speaks to the extent to which many hostages feel abandoned, abandoned, and often haunted by decision-makers in the West Wing. ‘answers’ are often perfunctory and unresponsive,” he said in the statement.
This story has been updated with additional information.