By Travis Caldwell, CNN
Trevor Reed, the American veteran who spent nearly three years detained in Russia before being released in April in a prisoner swap, called upon legislators and the White House Monday to work faster toward freeing American basketball star Brittney Griner.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at a Moscow airport and will remain in pretrial detention until at least June 18, according to Russian state media. Russian authorities claimed to have found cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Joining supporters at a rally for Griner in Houston Monday, Reed said Griner is likely to face even greater challenges behind bars in Russia than himself or fellow American detainee Paul Whelan because of her race and sexual orientation, as the country “systematically discriminates” against individuals who are Black or LGBTQ.
“There is no justice in Russia,” he said. “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.”
At the rally, Reed described the conditions of Russian prison as completely inhospitable, with rotten food and a lack of medical care, and he called the country’s legal system “medieval.”
“Every day that you’re in prison there, it’s like you’re waking up to a nightmare,” he said.
Reed called for advocates of Griner, Whelan and other Americans wrongfully detained across the world to work together and on each other’s behalf “because every single one of us is an American.” Reed urged people to contact their federal representatives and senators, demanding action.
“Write them, call them, annoy them, don’t leave them alone,” he said. “Tell them you want Brittney home and you want the rest of the Americans who are being wrongfully detained home, and you want it done now.”
Communication with Griner possible, agent says
Griner has been able to receive written correspondence from loved ones during her detention in Russia, her agent told CNN last week.
“While sporadic, written communication from her wife, family, friends and global sport community has been a source of comfort for BG during her wrongful detainment, going without real time, regular contact with loved ones is inhumane,” agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said. “It has been over 105 days since BG has heard her wife or family’s voice. It remains clear that Brittney Griner is being used as a political pawn and it is imperative that President Biden do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely.”
Griner’s case is being handled by the office of the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA) Roger Carstens, a State Department official confirmed last month, which coordinates government diplomatic efforts securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
The office may have more flexibility in efforts to negotiate Griner’s freedom as it does not necessarily have to wait for Russian legal proceedings to play out.
The SPEHA office was credited by Reed’s family as instrumental in getting Reed home after he was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020. Reed stood accused of endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers in an altercation, charges that he and his family vigorously denied.
Reed told CNN’s Jake Tapper he lost 45 pounds during his detention and was coughing up blood for a span of months, fearing he had caught Covid-19 or tuberculosis. Conditions at a psychiatric treatment facility he was sent to were brutal, he said.
“There was blood all over the wall there — where prisoners had killed themselves, or killed other prisoners, or attempted to do that,” Reed said.
“The toilet’s just a hole in the floor. And there’s, you know, crap everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls. There’s people in there also that walk around that look like zombies,” he continued.
Reed was released as part of a prisoner exchange with the US for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine. The US commuted Yaroshenko’s sentence.
Reed’s release was the result of “months and months of hard careful work across the US government” on the matter, a senior administration official said, noting that “the conversations on this particular issue have accelerated recently to get us to this point.”
A State Department spokesman told CNN in April that the Griner and Whelan cases remain top priorities for the US.
Public appeals for Griner’s expedited release continue to grow. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association recently marked the 100th day of Griner’s detention in Russia.
“To everyone listening: go to WeAreBG.org and sign the petition, call the White House and call everyone you know. If you know anyone in the Biden administration, CALL THEM,” the association said in a statement.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said on social media Sunday, “We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together.”
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CNN’s Kevin Dotson, Jacqueline Rose, Jennifer Hansler, Maegan Vazquez and Brian Todd contributed to this report.