WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 on alleged drug charges, is being wrongfully held, the Biden administration said Tuesday.
The determination means the United States will more aggressively work to secure Griner’s release, even as the legal case against her plays out, the State Department said, as reported by the Associated Press.
“The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” the department said.
Griner was detained at an airport after Russian authorities claimed that vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were found in Griner's bag. Since then, U.S. officials had stopped short of classifying Griner as wrongfully detained. Instead they said their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.
Now U.S. officials have who are wrongfully detained in other countries.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” said Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
The Associated Press reported that the president of the WNBA players’ union, Nneka Ogwumike, noted in a separate statement that “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,” Ogwumike added. “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.”
The WNBA released a statement Tuesday night saying: “Today’s news on Brittney Griner is a positive development and a next step to getting her home. The WNBA is in constant communication with the U.S. government on Brittney’s case, working together to get her home safe and as soon as possible.”
It was unclear what prompted the shift in approach to Griner’s case, though President Joe Biden’s administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make her release a priority.
The WNBA also said Tuesday that the league will honor Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s salary cap, the Associated Press reported. The decal will feature Griner’s initials and her No. 42. All 12 WNBA teams will have the decal on their home courts starting with the season opener Friday night.
Griner has a hearing set for May 19, the Associated Press reported.