By Ankita Joshi
WASHINGTON, DC – In February, Women’s National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia after being accused of having drugs in her luggage.
Russian Federal Customs Service claimed it discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, which has resulted in her being under criminal investigation for the “large-scale transportation of drugs,” an offense that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia.”
Since then, Griner has been held in Russia for a total of 75 days.
This past Tuesday, the U.S. State Department released a statement determining that Griner was “wrongfully detained.”
“The U.S. government will continue to provide appropriate consular support to Ms. Griner and her family,” said a State Department official in the statement.
“With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release,” the statement continued.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also released a statement to ESPN on the change in official designation.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” she stated.
Prior to this shift, “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.”
Earlier last week, the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been held in Russia since 2019, also sparked more optimism that Griner would be freed from custody.
Reed’s release also signals that “despite Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, there remains an open diplomatic channel between U.S. and Russian officials,” according to the U.S. statement.
“As I do everything in my power to get BG home, my heart is overflowing with joy for The Reed family,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, wrote on Instagram, adding, “I do not personally know them, but I do know the pain of having your loved one detained in a foreign country. That level of pain is constant and can only be remedied by a safe return home.”
With the WNBA’s new season beginning Friday, support from the league and her team members is high.
“That’s still our main concern, is our sister. Obviously the season is starting and we’re dedicating this season to her until she gets back with us,” Skylar Diggins-Smith, one of Griner’s teammates said, adding, “We think about her every day. We love her and we’re gonna continue to carry her legacy, her voice and play in her honor until she gets back here with us.
“There’s not a day that goes by where we’re not spending significant time on strategizing with, essentially, the administration experts,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The New York Times in an interview last month.