Months after her arrest in Russia, the Biden administration has finally changed WNBA star Brittney Griner’s status to “wrongfully detained.”
Griner was detained after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing traces of cannabis oil.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government. The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a department spokesperson told reporters. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Ekaterina Kalugina, a member of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, visited the Phoenix Mercury star in the detention center in Russia back in March. Griner shares a cell with two others.
Kalugina said that while Griner hasn’t complained about the conditions, she’s not without problems either.
“The only objective problem was the height of the basketball player—203 centimeters,” said Kalugina as quoted to TASS. “The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person.”
Griner is facing drug charges with up to 10 years in prison, according to Russian media reports, and her pre-trial detention was extended in March to May 19.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the WNBA would honor Griner with a floor decal . Mercury will also continue to play the athlete, counting against the team’s salary 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,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “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’s detainment has been viewed as political imprisonment because the U.S. sided with Ukraine following Russia’s unprovoked invasion.