Jun 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trevor Reed calls on U.S. to secure Brittney Griner’s release from Russia

Fans holding a Free Brittney sign

A young fan holds a sign honoring Brittney Griner during the Phoenix Mercury vs. Las Vegas Aces game on May 6 in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo: Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Former Marine Trevor Reed, who was held in a Russian prison since 2019 before being released in April, called on the Biden administration and Congress Tuesday to increase efforts to release WNBA player Brittney Griner from detention in Russia.

Why it matters: Reed, who said last month that he feared for his life during his imprisonment, warned that Griner may face greater challenges inside Russia's prison system than he did because of her race and sexual orientation.

  • He also called on the U.S. government to work toward securing the release of former Marine Paul Whelan, who in 2020 was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years in prison on spying charges that he and his family said are false.
  • Two-time Olympic gold medalist Griner was arrested by Russia in February on drug charges and is currently being held in pretrial detainment.
  • U.S. authorities said Griner was wrongfully detained and their requests to see her have been denied.

What they're saying: "Brittney, especially in Russia, is probably in a lot of ways in a worse position than I was, because Brittney is African American. There's a large portion of the population in Russia which is racist," Reed said at a Houston rally held for Griner on Tuesday.

  • "They also have a government that systematically discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual people under Vladimir Putin. And those things are obviously going to make Brittney's time there a lot more difficult than if they just had taken another American hostage," he said of Griner, who is a lesbian.
  • "There is no justice in Russia. Brittney and Paul will not receive justice in Russia. They're not going to receive a fair trial. They will not receive a fair investigation. They will be there as hostages until the United States gets them out," Reed added.
  • "You have to tell [lawmakers] that you want them brought home at any cost. You don't care what that cost is. You want to get your Americans home. You want to get Brittney home. You want to get Paul home," he told rallygoers.

The big picture: The U.S. warned last month that the Kremlin may be specifically targeting Americans for arrest, potentially for the purpose of exchanging them for Russians held in American prisons.

  • Reed was released by Russia in exchange for the U.S. releasing Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen who had been serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the U.S.
  • Reed said the U.S. government should work toward releasing Griner and Whelan, even if it means additional prisoner exchanges. Though State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an interview in April that the exchange to free Reed could not be used as a model for other cases.

Go deeper: Blinken tells wife of Brittney Griner her case is a top priority

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Trevor Reed was released in April (not May).

Go deeper