US Seeking Release of “Wrongfully Detained” WNBA Star Brittney Griner

What took so long?

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury warms up the 2021 WNBA playoffs
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury warms up the 2021 WNBA playoffs.
Ethan Miller/Getty

Approximately two months after American WNBA star Brittney Griner was taken into custody by Russian officials for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, the U.S. government has come to the conclusion that the 31-year-old is being “wrongfully detained” by her captors.

“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” according to a State Department official. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”

Why it took so long for the government to assign Griner’s situation that status is a bit perplexing, but the change in official designation means the feds will no longer wait for the case to play out in the legal system. In addition to the U.S. government now actively and openly working to secure Griner’s return, the change in designation also means her supporters will have the green light to bring attention to her case as they see fit.

“Until now, Griner’s personal team had followed State Department advice to keep a low profile so as not to make her a more valuable asset to Vladimir Putin’s government,” according to ESPN.

Griner, who has a hearing set for May 19, is facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. “Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas told ESPN.

When the WNBA season kicks off on Friday night, all 12 teams will have a decal featuring Griner’s initials and her No. 42 on their home courts. Griner will also be paid her full salary of nearly $228,000 even though she will not be playing for the Phoenix Mercury.

“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”

Hopefully, thanks to the government’s new designation, the challenging time for Griner and her family and friends will be coming to an end soon. There’s some room for optimism as former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been held in Russia since 2019, was traded last week for a Russian citizen who had been convicted of drug smuggling. Paul Whelan, another American, remains in Russian detention after more than two years.

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