The U.S. has determined that WNBA staris being wrongfully detained by Russia, the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.
The U.S. government said it would “continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” who wasin mid-February at a Russian airport, where officials claimed that Griner’s luggage held vape cartridges with oil derived from cannabis, a charge which can result in up to 10 years in prison in Russia. On March 18, a Russian court to May 19.
She is being held in a pre-trial detention center near Moscow, where she will stay until her next court appearance.
Under a 2020 law, the determination by the U.S. that an individual is being wrongfully detained triggers more targeted efforts to free the prisoner, as the case is transferred from the State Department to the special envoy of hostage affairs. In a statement Tuesday, the State Department confirmed this would take place: “With this determination, the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
On Tuesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that Griner’s initials and her number, 42, will be seen on the sidelines of all 12 of the WNBA basketball courts.
“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,” Engelbert said in a statement.
In late March, U.S. embassy officials were able to see Griner at the detention facility where she’s being held, and they reported her to be in “good condition.”
Kristin Brown and Sara Cook contributed to this report.