US reclassifies WNBA star Brittney Griner as ‘wrongfully detained by Russia’, sources say

The US government now considers the WNBA a star Brittney Griner wrongfully detained by the Russian government, signaling a dramatic change in how officials will try to bring her home, sources familiar with her case told ESPN.

Officials and other sources close to Griner’s case declined to say what led to the change or whether there had been any discussion of what would be needed to secure his release. her or not.

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House will do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement. with ESPN on Tuesday.

The change of official designation means that the US government will no longer wait for Griner’s case to be processed through Russia’s legal system and will seek to negotiate her return. It also means that Griner’s fellow WNBA players and supporters in Congress will be told they are blessed from the family to care as much about her case as they would like.

“We’re really pleased with that,” said a source close to Griner. “But we also know it can stretch out, so we don’t want to put our hopes too high.”

A source close to Griner also confirmed on Monday that former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who worked privately for many years as an international hostage negotiator, had agreed to do so. on the Griner case last week. Experts have said that Richardson’s involvement will be an important sign that her case has moved into a new field.

So far, Griner’s personal team has followed State Department advice to keep her private so as not to make her a more valuable asset to Vladimir Putin’s government.

Late Monday, a State Department official sent ESPN a statement, saying, “The State Department has determined that the Russian Federation wrongly detained United States citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, , Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team to secure the release of Brittney Griner.”

That doesn’t mean Griner is being held hostage, the official said, which is a legal classification that is different from false detention.

Sources close to Griner said they were not told why she was reclassified, but they were informed Saturday morning that her case had been referred to the special envoy’s office.

Until last weekend, her case was being handled by the consular office, which oversees the cases of any Americans held abroad without necessarily intervening. State Department officials notified the appropriate congressional committees of the change Monday.

“It’s been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been unjustly detained in Russia. It’s time for her to go home,” said Nneka Ogwumike, president of the bridge association. WNBA player, said in a contest, “After learning that the United States government has now determined that BG is being improperly detained, it is our hope that their efforts will be substantial, expeditious and success. ”

Griner’s team became optimistic about her fate last week with the release of former US Marine Trevor Reed, who has been detained in Russia since 2019.

Reed was essentially swapped out for a Russian citizen who had been convicted of drug trafficking. The deal is a signal that, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is an open diplomatic channel between US and Russian officials.

Richardson was active in securing Reed’s release. Another American, Paul Whelan, remains in Russian custody after more than two years.

Griner, who played in the WNBA season for a Russian team, was arrested in February at a Moscow-area airport upon entry into the country. Russian prosecutors say she illegally brought vape boxes containing hash oil.

Griner has yet to be formally charged, but she is expected to have a hearing on May 19. The fact that the US government now considers Griner a wrongful detainee does not mean that Russia will changed its official stance on her arrest, but it meant that the United States held that the legal proceedings were unrelated to her case.

The WNBA on Tuesday said it will keep Griner “at the forefront of what we do” this season with decal floor on the sidelines of the home field of all 12 teams. The decal will feature Griner’s initials along with her number 42.

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