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As Brittney Griner’s family celebrated the WNBA player’s release on Thursday from a Russian penal colony, her agent said the campaign to bring her home will now pivot to the cases of 13 other Americans who are detained internationally.
Griner had been detained in Russia since February, when she was arrested at a Moscow airport with vape cartridges of hashish oil in her luggage. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced her return to the US, as part of a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been known as the “Merchant of Death.”
During Thursday’s announcement at the White House, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said she is committed to the work of bringing home other Americans who are held in Russia and around the world.
“Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many other families that are not whole,” Cherelle Griner said.
Those plans were further outlined by Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, in a statement the same day. Colas, executive vice president at sports marketing company Wasserman, thanked the Biden administration for following through on its commitment to get Griner back to the US.
“It’s through hardship that character is revealed, and over the last nine months, we have seen the best of so many,” Colas said in the statement. “At the top of that list are BG and President Biden. Throughout this ordeal, BG has carried herself with courage, grace and grit; and President Biden made us a promise, and then kept his word and did what was necessary to bring her home.”
Colas added that the We Are BG coalition will continue to do its part in reuniting families with their relatives who are being held overseas, including former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia in 2018 under accusations of being a spy.
“In return, our commitment to President Biden and to the families of Americans who are being held hostage and wrongfully detained – especially Elizabeth and David Whelan, on behalf of their brother Paul Whelan, who remains in Russia and whose continued detention weighs heavily on our hearts – is to continue our work in the movement to bring them home,” Colas said.
In addition to Whelan, Colas said the coalition will advocate for 12 other Americans: Emad Shargi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Shahab Dalili in Iran; Luke Denman, Airan Berry, and Eyvin Hernandez in Venezuela; Kai Li and Mark Swidan in China; Majd Kamalmaz in Syria; Jeffery Woodke in Mali; and Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda.
“Our eyes have been opened through this process to your struggle and as we have always done, BG and our coalition of activist athletes will ensure that silence is no longer an option,” Cola wrote. “Your stories will be told, your loved ones’ names will be known, and you will be reunited, because bringing our people home is a moral issue that matters to this Administration.”
In a statement to CBS News, Paul Whelan’s brother David Whelan said he is “so glad” to hear of Griner’s release and that the family does “not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom.”
“As a family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays,” David Whelan wrote.
“At some level, our family has steeled ourselves for this likelihood,” he continued. “And I think, as the use of wrongful detentions and hostage diplomacy continues around the globe, it’s clear the US government needs to be more assertive.”
Julia Reinstein contributed reporting to this story.
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