Brittney Griner: US reclassifies WNBA star as 'wrongfully detained' in Russia

Biden administration seeks to more aggressively secure basketball star's release

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US President Joe Biden's administration has reclassified basketball star Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained” by Russia, as Washington seeks to more aggressively seek her release, a State Department representative confirmed to The National on Tuesday.

Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February after Russian authorities claimed they had discovered several cannabis oil vape cartridges.

She now faces charges that carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Since her detention, US officials had said they were focused on ensuring she had access to American consular affairs officials while in jail.

The White House said last week that it had been in contact with her family “over the course of time”, but did not provide additional details.

“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained US citizen Brittney Griner,” the representative told The National.

“The US government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms Griner.”

The representative added that the safety and welfare of Americans abroad is of the highest priority.

It is unknown what prompted Griner's reclassification, but the Biden administration has been under pressure to secure her release after negotiating the return of former marine Trevor Reed last week.

ESPN first reported the news of Griner's new designation.

Roger Carstens, US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, will lead a team to secure her release, ESPN reported.

Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, who played an active role in securing Mr Reed's release, agreed last week to join Griner's team.

Watch former US marine Trevor Reed being escorted to a plane

Watch former US marine Trevor Reed being escorted to a plane

“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, Griner's agent, told ESPN in a statement.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is expected to honour the two-time Olympic gold medallist with a floor decal featuring her initials and her jersey number — BG 42.

The league also confirmed it would allow Griner's team, the Phoenix Mercury, to continue paying her full salary without it counting against the team's cap.

“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.”

Griner, a former WNBA champion and seven-time All-Star, was the league's second-leading scorer for the 2020-21 season. She led the Mercury to the WNBA finals last year, where they lost to the Chicago Sky.

She is scheduled to make her first appearance in Russian court on May 19.

Updated: May 04, 2022, 5:38 AM