Brittney Griner has been back on U.S. soil for nearly two weeks after she was released from a Russian prison after the two countries reached a prisoner swap deal in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 8.
After 10 months behind bars, the deal exchanged the WNBA star for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. While returning stateside and spending much-needed time with her wife, Cherelle, and family members, she has not forgotten about former Marine Paul Whelan, who remains in prison after Russian officials denied Americans the opportunity to include him in the prisoner swap.
But as Griner celebrates the holidays with her loved ones, the eight-time All-Star penned a note on social media, urging people to join her in writing letters to Whelan and others in advocating for their release from being wrongfully detained behind bars.
“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,” Griner wrote. “Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me. They showed me the power of collective hands. … My family is 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.”
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Whelan, 52, was arrested in Russia in 2018 on accusations of espionage, which he continues to deny, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In addition to her requests for letters to Whelan, Griner thanked her supporters that impacted her life while she was detained in Russia.
“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,” Griner wrote. “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. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Because of you, I never lost hope.
Griner arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Dec. 9. She was arrested at a Russian airport in February for allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in Russian court in July to the drug charges, while stating that she did not intend to break the law. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in early August and had begun serving time in a penal colony in the Mordovia region of Russia.