Brittney Griner urges supporters to write letters to Paul Whelan in prison


Two weeks after Brittney Griner’s release from Russia, where she had been detained on drug charges for the better part of a year, the U.S. basketball star called on her supporters to redirect their advocacy to focus on Paul Whelan.

Whelan — a former U.S. Marine who traveled to Moscow in December 2018 to attend a wedding — has been imprisoned in Russia since his arrest during that trip on espionage charges, which federal officials called false, and which both Whelan and his legal defense team said came in an effort to frame him. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison following his conviction in Russia two summers later.

In a written letter shared to Instagram on Wednesday, Griner asked followers, and those involved in the WeAreBG Campaign that pushed for her release from Russian custody, to write letters to Whelan and “advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”

“Thanks to the efforts to many, including you, I am home after nearly 10 months,” she wrote. “You took time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write to you and say that your effort mattered. Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined.”

The athlete said it was because of the public’s ongoing support that she “never lost hope” while imprisoned.

“Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me. They showed me the power of collective hands. Together, we can do hard things. I’m living proof of that,” Griner continued, adding, “My family’s whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together.” 

“However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained,” she said. “Those families stood alongside you and all who supported the WeAreBG Campaign to bring me home and it’s our turn to support them. I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”

President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with the families of Brittney Griner, left, and Paul Whelan at the White House on September 16, marking his first time personally meeting with them since their loved ones were detained in Russia.

Griner was sentenced to nine years after her arrest at a Moscow-area airport this past February, when authorities took her into custody for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. They are illegal in Russia and were found in the WNBA player’s travel bag. Griner’s eventual release in December was the result of a prisoner swap wherein the U.S. released the notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia in exchange for her freedom.

In an announcement given on the day of Griner’s return home, President Joe Biden vowed to continue negotiations aimed at securing the release of Whelan, who also remained in prison as Trevor Reed, another Marine Corps veteran previously detained in Russia, was freed from Russian custody in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko last April.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” said Biden in remarks confirming and reacting to Griner’s release on Dec. 8. He went on to say that the U.S. “will never give up” trying to negotiate for Whelan’s freedom. 

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