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Family of American teacher in Russian prison asks Brittney Griner to speak up for those left behind

The family of marc fogelAn American teacher jailed in Russia for trying to bring medical marijuana into the country is calling on WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was released by Russia on Thursday, to call attention to her case now that she is free.

Fogel, 60, and his wife were traveling to Moscow last summer to teach at a private international school there when they arrested him at the airport with less than an ounce of cannabis product.

Marc Fogel’s family is pleading with US officials to release him from a Russian prison.

(Sarah Grubs)

Fogel’s niece, Kelly Leguineche, told CBS News in a statement: “I am relieved that Brittney Griner and her family are no longer suffering. I believe she deserved to come home.”

However, Leguineche added: “At the same time, I think there is very little doubt that her fame also led the administration to prioritize her return. This is not surprising. All we can hope is that she comes to understand this and feels a responsibility”. to advocate for the others, Marc Fogel and Paul Whelan, who were left behind.”

“I hope that she shows compassion for us and uses her platform to make sure they are not forgotten. I think that is her duty,” she said.

In a prisoner exchange first reported Per CBS News, Griner was returned home from Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer known as the “merchant of death”, for conspiring to sell weapons to entities planning to kill Americans.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about the Marc Fogel case on “Face The Nation with Margaret Brennan.”

“We are working around the world, including in Russia, to make sure that any American who is being wrongfully detained comes home,” Blinken said.

Unlike Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who has been held in Russia for four years after being sentenced to 16 years for espionage charges In what he denounced as a “sham trial,” State Department officials failed to classify Fogel as “wrongfully detained,” a necessary step before the White House begins negotiations for his release.

A State Department spokesperson told CBS News that the department regularly reviews the cases of all US citizens detained abroad to determine whether their detention is unfair.

When Fogel was arrested last summer in Russia, State Department officials advised his family to keep a low profile and wait for a lenient sentence, according to Leguineche. But after Fogel received his 14-year sentence in June, his family changed tack to try to draw attention to his case. His niece launched an online petition to try to generate for her uncle a fraction of the political pressure that arose from protests by fans and Griner’s family over his imprisonment.

“No one in the family or anyone we’ve spoken to who is informed about conditions in the penal colony thinks he’ll survive anything like this period.” said Leguineche, who is afraid of never seeing his uncle again. “Paying with your life to have less than an ounce of medical marijuana for chronic spinal pain is not justice.”

Both Griner and Fogel claimed their drugs were prescribed for severe pain, but the Russian penal code makes no legal exception for prescription cannabis. Fogel brought about 17 grams of marijuana to Russia, more than 20 times the amount of cannabis products Griner had in his carry-on luggage, and was convicted of the highest level charge of drug trafficking on a “large scale.” . His long sentence is at the top of the range for that charge, according to William Elliott Butler, a law professor at Penn State Dickinson Law and an expert on Russian law.

The US State Department classified WNBA player Britney Griner as “wrongfully detained” before a Russian court sentenced her, which Butler says is highly unusual. Butler says the State Department’s decision on whether to give that key classification to a US citizen in the hands of a foreign government boils down to “impeachment.”

“Brittney has a lot of support, so the administration responded,” Butler said.

Leguineche has “almost no idea” of his uncle’s current condition, because the family limits himself to communicating with him through letters that are translated into Russian so they can be filtered.

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