WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has ruled that WNBA star Brittney Griner has been unfairly detained in Russia, meaning the US will work more aggressively to secure her release even if the lawsuit against her ends. the State Department said Tuesday.
“The US government will continue to work to provide adequate support for Ms. Griner,” the department said.
Griner was arrested at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vaporizer cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil. Since then, US officials had stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as being wrongfully detained and instead claimed that their goal was to ensure he had access to US consular affairs officials in prison.
Now, however, US officials have shifted oversight of her case to a section of the State Department – the Office of the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs – which focuses on negotiations for the release of hostages and other classified Americans. as unjustly detained in other countries. A consular official paid a visit in March.
“Brittney was detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House will do whatever it takes to bring her home,” said Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
WNBA players union president Nneka Ogwumike noted in a separate statement that “it’s been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia.”
“It’s time for me to go home,” Ogwumike added. “Having learned that the US government has now determined that BG has been wrongfully detained, we hope their efforts are meaningful, swift and successful.”
It was unclear what prompted the shift in approach to Griner’s case, although President Joe Biden’s administration had come under pressure from members of Congress and others to make his release a priority.
Last week the United States secured the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed as part of a prisoner swap that also resulted in the release from prison of a Russian drug trafficker convicted in the United States.
In addition to Griner, another American considered unfairly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive who was arrested in December 2018 while visiting a friend’s wedding and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges. spying, says his family are bogus.
ESPN first reported the classification in Griner’s case.
Meanwhile, the WNBA announced Tuesday that it would honor Griner with a floor decal and allow Mercury to pay for it without it counting for the team hat. The decal will feature Griner’s initials, BG, as well as his number 42.
All 12 teams will have the decal on their home fields starting the season opener on Friday night. The Mercury opened their home season that night against the Las Vegas Aces.