By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) -A coalition of human rights groups on Wednesday called on U.S. President Joe Biden to “make a deal” to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia.
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed multiple cannabis oil vape cartridges. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
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 “wrongfully detained” and assigning diplomats to work for her release.
But they said more needs to be done.
“The U.S. Government has acknowledged that Brittney is essentially a political pawn in classifying her as wrongfully detained,” the groups said in a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris that was seen by Reuters.
“While these have been critically important measures, we now urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”
Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Reuters that the government is exploring all avenues to secure her release.
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Watson said in an email.
“The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means – to bring her home.”
One of the brightest stars in the top-flight U.S. 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 deteriorated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Griner has for years played for a Russian professional team during the WNBA off-season to help supplement her income. She is a seven-time Russian League champion.
On Monday, a Kremlin spokesman said Griner was guilty of drug offences and not a hostage.
(Editing by Toby Davis)