The U.S. government now says that WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia is a “wrongful detainment,” which could signal new efforts to bring the athlete home.
Griner was initially arrested in Russia in February, after customs officials said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. In March, Russian state news agency TASS announced Griner’s detention on drug charges had been extended by at least two months, as we reported at the time.
U.S. officials have now shifted Griner’s case away from consular affairs to a section of the State Department: the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, The Associated Press Reported.
Because of the change in designation for Griner’s case, the U.S. government will now seek to negotiate her return, ESPN reported. In a statement to the outlet, the State Department will lead the interagency team working to secure Griner’s release.
An unnamed official told ESPN that Griner is not considered a hostage, a different legal classification from “wrongful detainee.”
On Tuesday, the WNBA announced plans to acknowledge Griner’s arrest and detainment by featuring her initials and jersey number (42) on the sidelines of all 12 WNBA courts. The Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s team, plays their season opener Friday night at home against the Las Vegas Aces, The Associated Press reported.
“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,” Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBA players’ union, said in a statement on Twitter. “Having learned that the U.S. government has now determined that BG is being wrongfully detained, we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift and successful.”