Free Brittney Griner Petition Nears 150K Signatures

A petition calling for the safe return of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for almost three months, is nearing 150,000 signatures.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at an airport in Moscow.

She faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration says she is being wrongfully detained.

As the U.S. government works to secure her release amid deteriorating relations caused by Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine, a petition calling on the government to prioritize her release is nearing its target of 150,000 signatures.

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury
A petition calling for the safe return of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for almost three months, is nearing 150,000 signatures. Griner is pictured playing for the Phoenix Mercury during game four of the 2021 WNBA semi-finals at Footprint Center in Phoenix on October 6, 2021. Christian Petersen/Getty Images for Giffords Law Center

"It is imperative that the U.S. government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely," the petition states.

"The [Women's National Basketball Players Association] and its members proudly join Tamryn Spruill, the creator of this petition, in demanding that lawmakers prioritize Griner's return. White House and Biden administration, we ask that you take action today—doing whatever is necessary—to bring Brittney Griner home swiftly and safely."

By early Wednesday, more than 137,000 people had signed the petition. Spruill has been contacted for comment.

On Tuesday, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart repeated calls for the Biden administration to get Griner out of Russia.

"It has been 89 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home," Stewart tweeted. "@WhiteHouse, we are paying attention and we are counting on you."

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday said it is still pushing to have regular contact with Griner.

Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at a briefing that a consular official was able to speak with Griner on Friday, when her pre-trial detention in Russia was extended by a month.

"That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult," Price said. "But sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention to which Russia has subscribed."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked with Griner's wife in recent days, Price added.

"He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeking the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia—those are Americans who we consider to be wrongfully detained," he said.

Whelan, a corporate security executive and former U.S. Marine, is being held in Russia after being convicted on espionage-related charges after what he called a "sham trial."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he is working "side by side" with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert on bringing Griner home. In an interview on ESPN Tuesday night, Silver said: "We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well. Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia."

In April the U.S. and Russia carried out a surprise prisoner exchange, trading former Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

"His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad," President Joe Biden said in a statement after Reed's release.