The US State Department has determined that WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was “wrongly detained” when she was arrested at a Russian airport in mid-February on drug charges.
This classification means the US will work more aggressively to secure Griner’s release, even as his legal case continues abroad, The Associated Press reported, citing two US officials.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed the reclassification to HuffPost but declined to elaborate on the reason for the change, which was first reported by ESPN on Tuesday.
The spokesperson noted that all cases involving a US citizen detained abroad are reviewed to determine whether they are “wrongful” or “unjust” and that, for operational or privacy reasons, not all determinations of wrongful detention are made public. .
WNBA Players Union President Nneka Ogwumike reacted to news of the determination, expressing hope that it will lead to Griner’s speedy return to the US.
“It has been 75 days since our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, was wrongfully detained in Russia. It’s time for her to come home. she tweeted.
The Phoenix Mercury Center was detained after Russia’s Federal Customs Service said its officials found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in their luggage at an airport near Moscow. Drug charges could carry up to 10 years in prison.
Griner was returning to Russia to play again in the Russian League, where he plays in the WNBA offseason.
Late last month, US Navy veteran Trevor Reed, who was detained in Russia in 2019 after being accused of assaulting an officer, was released as part of a prison swap.
Another American who continues to be unfairly held in Russia according to US officials is Paul Whelan. Whelan was charged with espionage by Russian intelligence officials after visiting Moscow in 2018 for a friend’s wedding, and in 2020 he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said in a statement to reporters Monday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured his family that the White House remains focused on securing his release.
“It is important that, as more and more Americans are arbitrarily detained, the White House acts more deliberately and quickly to resolve these cases. We will continue to encourage them to do so,” said David Whelan.