The Biden administration on Tuesday said an American professional basketball player being held in Russia on charges she had illegal marijuana vaping cartridges in her luggage is being wrongfully detained.
That could mean the U.S. is taking a more aggressive approach to securing the release of Brittney Griner, who has been held since she was detained at the Moscow airport in February.
Now her case will be handled by the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which negotiates hostage release cases.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release,” a State Department spokesperson told ESPN.
Prior to today’s announcement, the U.S. had not officially said the WNBA player was being wrongfully detained.
“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 WNBA also issued a statement about the case.
“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 in a 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.”
It is unclear what made the Biden administration change its stand in the case, but it had come under pressure from members of Congress urging action to secure Griner’s release.
Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press.