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In one of her first public appearances since her release from Russian prison, WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner spoke at the 54th NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, thanking people for their support and calling for the return of Americans still detained abroad.
“It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and all of you here today. I want to thank everyone,” Griner said onstage. “Let’s keep fighting to bring home all Americans who are still being held abroad.”
Griner and his wife, Cherelle Griner, were greeted on stage by awards ceremony host and actress Queen Latifah, who applauded the couple for their resilience.
“As we gather here tonight in the spirit of overcoming adversity, I want to take this moment to recognize someone who has done just that,” Queen Latifah said.
On average, 34 Americans are wrongfully detained by foreign governments each year; that number is nearly seven times higher than average compared to a decade ago, according to a study by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, a group that advocates for liberation. of Americans being held hostage or wrongfully detained.
According to the organization, there are at least 60 american who are currently being held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. Most of the detainees are in Iran, China, Venezuela, Syria and Russia.
Although nearly two-thirds of people who are wrongfully detained are eventually released, rescued, or escape, the report found that almost a third are still detained and almost half of those currently detained have been held for more than four years.
Wrongful detention was once a practice carried out mainly by terrorist organizations or other militant groups. But over the years, it has increasingly become a tool of adversarial governments, according to the study.
Last February, Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, traveled to Moscow to play the offseason in a Russian basketball league. Griner was detained on drug charges upon her arrival after customs officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner said the oil was legally prescribed to treat chronic pain problems and any violations of Russian law were unintentional.
After nearly 10 months of tense negotiations between the US and Russia, Griner touched down on US soil on December 1. 8 as part of a prisoner exchange. In exchange for Griner’s release, the United States turned over convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
On the day of Griner’s return, President Biden said Griner was in “good spirits” but needed time to recover from the traumatic experience of being wrongfully detained.
At a news conference, Biden recalled an earlier letter from Griner in July while he was still in a Russian prison, which had a similar note to his statement Saturday at the awards ceremony.
Biden said: “She requested a simple quote: ‘Please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees.’”