The State Department has reclassified WNBA star Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
The reclassification marks a shift in the State Department’s efforts to secure Griner’s release. The department had previously refrained from claiming that Russia had wrongfully detained Griner, who’d been arrested at a Moscow airport in February, allegedly for drug possession.
Citing that “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S. government,” State Department officials said Tuesday that the agency “has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” as reported by ESPN, which first broke the story.
The government “will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support for Ms. Griner,” officials said.
Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, had been detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, initially on charges related to possession of cannabis oil according to Russian officials. Griner plays for the Russian women’s basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off season.
Griner has not been formally charged, but is scheduled for a hearing on May 19, ESPN reports. However, the State Department does not consider the allegations relevant to her detainment, and will negotiate for her release without waiting to see how her case plays out in the Russian legal system.
On Tuesday, the WNBA announced that it would feature Griner’s initials and jersey number 42 along the sidelines of all 12 WNBA courts for the 2022 season, which kicks off May 6.
“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 in a news statement. “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.”
In a post on Twitter, Griner’s teammate Brianna Turner said, “It has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home.”
She ended the message by stating, “Know that we are watching. We are paying attention. #WeAreBG.”
It has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. Know that we are watching. We are paying attention. #WeAreBG https://t.co/B2Jc6ieaG6
— Brianna Turner (@_Breezy_Briii) May 3, 2022