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Brittney Griner

Two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner holds a photo of WNBA players wearing her number 42 as she sits in a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Khimki Court outside Moscow on July 15, 2022. (Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

Calling On Russia to Free Brittney Griner, Bishop Barber Seeks 'Humanitarian Visit'

"She's been kept from her family. From her wife. From her profession. From her friends," the activist pastor said of the U.S. Olympian jailed in Russia. "It's time for her to come home."

Brett Wilkins

Bishop William J. Barber II on Friday reiterated his support for Brittney Griner while calling on Russian and U.S. authorities to allow faith leaders to visit the jailed U.S. Olympian and Women's National Basketball Association superstar in Russia to help secure her release.

"We are asking the U.S. government and the U.S. and Russian embassies to allow faith leaders to travel to Russia as part of a humanitarian effort to gain her release."

At a virtual press conference, Barber—who is president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival—said that he and other faith leaders are "willing to engage in a humanitarian visit" to Russia to visit Griner "if the Russian Embassy and the U.S. government would work out the particulars to allow that to happen."

Griner, a 31-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time All-Star center for the Phoenix Mercury, has been jailed for nearly five months following her arrest at Moscow's international airport for carrying vaporizer cartridges containing 0.7 grams of hashish oil.

Lawyers for Griner—who last week pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges in hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence—said in court Friday that the hash oil was prescribed by a doctor to help alleviate pain.

Griner faces up to a decade behind bars in what is widely considered a politically motivated case amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the latter's invasion of Ukraine.

"She was arrested and has been threatened with 10 years for oil, for hash oil," said Barber. "She's been kept from her family. From her wife. From her profession. From her friends. It's time for her to come home."

Barber continued:

The sentence they're talking about doesn't even reflect the kind of crime she's being accused of... We are calling on Russia to stop using Brittney as a political pawn. We also call on the White House and other government entities to secure her safe return to her country and her family. We are asking the U.S. government and the U.S. and Russian embassies to allow faith leaders to travel to Russia as part of a humanitarian effort to gain her release.

When asked by Common Dreams if he saw any hypocrisy in the Biden administration asserting that Griner is "wrongfully detained" while there are people serving lengthy—and even life—prison sentences for marijuana possession in the United States, Barber said "that is an area that's problematic."

"[But] we can do both at the same time. We can challenge what's going on here in the United States and at the same time call for the ending of the incarceration of Brittney Griner, and we should," he argued. "And those even in the government who will work on this for Brittney should also—and we challenge them—be as vocal when working on the injustices that exist right here in our home country."


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