Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have come together in support of a resolution calling for the release of Brittney Griner, the basketball star who has been held in a Russian prison since February over drug charges.
More than 30 senators joined as cosponsors of the resolution, which “calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to immediately release [Griner]”; “urges the United States, in all interactions with the Government of the Russian Federation, to raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release”; “urges the Government of the Russian Federation to provide consular access to Brittney Griner while she remains in detention”; “urges the Government of the Russian Federation to respect the human rights of Brittney Griner”; and “expresses support to the family of Brittney Griner and a commitment to bringing her home.”
The resolution additionally expresses support for Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, along with “all prisoners unjustly imprisoned in the Russian Federation.”
It was written by Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kristen Sinema, both of Arizona, where Griner’s WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury plays, as well as Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the home of Griner’s alma mater, Baylor University.
“I’ve worked with the State Department to make sure that Brittney Griner’s safe return is a top priority, and this bipartisan resolution shows the Senate’s support for her as well. Brittney Griner is an inspiration to Arizonans and Americans across the country. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her talent on the court up close. The Russian government unjustly detained Brittney and we will keep working with the administration to ensure her safe and swift return,” Kelly said in a statement on Thursday.
“Arizonans have love and admiration for Brittney Griner both on and off the court,” Sinema said. “The Department of State has determined that Brittney was wrongfully detained – it’s past time for her to come home.”
Griner was arrested on February 17 at an airport in Moscow while traveling back to Russia to complete her season for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which she plays for during the WNBA’s offseason.
She was accused of carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, and faces up to 10 years in prison on drug charges.
After her trial commenced earlier this month, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law.
Griner’s detention, coming not long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is widely viewed as politically motivated. The U.S. Department of State in May reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained.”
Russia has given suggestions as of late that it could be angling for a prisoner swap involving Griner and Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in the U.S.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is facing mounting pressure to bring Griner home.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, earlier this month, after Brittney Griner sent a letter to the president.
“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 in the letter.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner continued. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! 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.”